by Mike Henry

Chances are, trainer Arnaud Delacour will get a good night’s sleep before returning to his Tampa Bay Downs barn Saturday morning.

With the 3-1 morning-line favorite, undefeated 5-year-old gelding Chez Pierre, in the Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes, and the 9-2 third choice Panama Red, a 4-year-old filly, in the Grade III, $175,000 Endeavour Stakes, you might expect Delacour to be afflicted with a serious case of nerves.

But this isn’t his first rodeo, and he believes he has both horses prepared to compete to their utmost when the starting gate springs open.


Arnaud Delacour

But, yeah, he expects to experience some butterflies in those final moments before the start.

“It’s kind of a relief” when big-race day arrives, Delacour said. “All the heavy lifting is done. The day of the race, it’s out of my control, so I don’t really stress about it. The main stress is to have them ready for the race.

“It feels good just to have a shot in these kind of races, and it is always something that is very exciting.”

The Tampa Bay Stakes and the Endeavour are the centerpieces of a 10-race Turf Champions Day card beginning at 12:32 p.m. The Tampa Bay Stakes is the ninth race and the Endeavour is the seventh.

Both races are at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass, with the Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward and the Endeavour for fillies and mares 4-and-upward.

The French-bred Chez Pierre, owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson’s Lael Stables, will break from the No. 10 post under jockey Daniel Centeno is an expected field of 12. Delacour also trains the inside No. 1 runner, Rhianon Farms’s 4-year-old gelding Barberini, who will be ridden by Angel Suarez.

In the Endeavour Stakes, Centeno will ride 4-year-old Ireland-bred filly Panama Red from the No. 3 post in an expected 11-horse field. The 3-1 morning-line favorite for the Endeavour is Marketsegmentation, a 4-year-old filly owned by Klaravich Stables and trained by Chad Brown. Leading Oldsmar jockey Samy Camacho has the riding assignment.

Jockey Sonny Leon, who won last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on 80-1 shot Rich Strike, is named on Field Pass in the Tampa Bay Stakes and Omixochitl in the Endeavour.

Delacour will put Chez Pierre’s 5-for-5 career record on the line in the Tampa Bay Stakes, the horse’s first start since winning the April 23 Henry S. Clark Stakes at Laurel in dominating fashion under Centeno going a mile on the turf.

Chez Pierre was sent to the sidelines about six weeks later, not returning to training until Dec. 18 at the Oldsmar oval. “He hurt himself behind. It was nothing major, but required a good amount of time,” Delacour said. “He hasn’t missed a beat since. He has been doing very well, and I expect him to be fit enough to give a good performance.”

Whether that will be enough to turn back such quality runners as trainer Todd Pletcher’s Emmanuel, Chad Brown’s Verbal and the Oldsmar oval’s mile course record-holder, trainer Jorge Delgado’s Winfromwithin, will be shown late Saturday afternoon. Either way, Delacour is hoping for a big year from Chez Pierre.

“He might not be at his optimum yet,” Delacour said. “But we’re pretty upbeat about him. Timing-wise, this race is right, and we hope it will set him up for some good races in the spring and summer.”

Delacour said Barberini is probably better going a mile-and-a-quarter or a mile-and-a-half, but thinks he is peaking after a third-place finish Dec. 17 at Gulfstream in the mile-and-five-eighths H. Allen Jerkens Handicap and worthy of a shot.

While Delacour is seeking his first Tampa Bay Stakes triumph, he hopes to win the Endeavour Stakes for the third time in the last five years. Panama Red, a stakes winner at 2 in Ireland who is 2-for-9 lifetime, was purchased privately by Lael Stables after a runner-up stakes effort at Killarney in August, arriving soon afterward at Delacour’s Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland.

She has breezed eight times at Tampa Bay Downs since Dec. 1, looking better and better each time to her trainer.

“She has acclimated very well to training on an oval and done everything great. She’s a smart filly and I’m pretty excited to run her,” Delacour said. “She is still eligible for a ‘non-winners of 2 (races)’ condition, but she is training well enough that I thought we could give her a shot at the Grade III level.”

Nunn is Boot Barn Trainer of the Month. Just about every day spent around racehorses is an occasion to celebrate for trainer Douglas Nunn. But last July 3 at Monmouth Park stands out as an unforgettable, fortune-turning afternoon that continues to pay big dividends.

Four weeks after his then-6-year-old gelding Smithwick’s Spice was claimed away from Nunn and breeder-owner New Spice Stable for $15,000, Nunn grabbed the opportunity to claim him back for the same price for New Spice, owned by New Jersey residents Robert and Bonnie Matthies.


Boot Barn Trainer of the Month Douglas Nunn and his wife, Maria Claire Van Sant, share the love with their 7-year-old gelding, Smithwick's Spice

Two starts later, Nunn decide to switch Smithwick’s Spice to the turf for a 5 ½-furlong starter allowance race, and the horse made him look like a genius with a length-and-a-quarter victory at odds of 10-1. He won his next two starts on the lawn at Monmouth, including a dominating 3-length triumph on Sept. 18 sprinting 5 furlongs in the $88,400 Joey P. Handicap.

“He’s got really big feet, which indicates he should love the turf, but his pedigree doesn’t say that at all,” said Nunn, who trained Smithwick’s Spice’s dam Spicy McHaggis late in her career. “But he’s just become a superstar (on grass). Thank God I got him back, because he’s been pretty special.”

After winning a leg of the Tampa Turf Test starter handicap series going a mile-and-a-sixteenth on Jan. 21, Smithwick’s Spice’s career record is 8-for-29, with seven seconds and career earnings of $393,167. Nunn plans to give him some time off before returning to Monmouth for New Jersey-bred stakes competition.

Smithwick’s Spice’s Tampa Turf Test victory was instrumental to Nunn earning the Boot Barn Trainer of the Month Award. The conditioner sent out five winners from 14 Tampa Bay Downs starters in January.

Anyone who knows the 53-year-old Nunn would have taken even-money odds that he’d become emotional upon hearing of the honor, and they would have collected handsomely. For Nunn, training racehorses is more than a way of life.

“The horses, to me, are my children,” said Nunn, a former jockey. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my career, but it’s never been a day of work. If you listen to them, they talk to you. It’s just a different language and you’ve just got to listen.”

Nunn comes from a racing background. His late parents were trainers, as was his twin brother David, who won the Grade II Ruffian Handicap in 2013 at Aqueduct with Withgreatpleasure. Their late sister, Michele Harris, was a jockey who rode at Tampa Bay Downs (then Florida Downs) in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Before injuries slowed him the last couple of years, Nunn readied all his own horses for the racetrack. “I think that is what has made my career last and helped me be able to really figure out a horse,” said Nunn, who has been training since 1992. “It’s so much easier to trust yourself and not have to hear from someone else how the horse might be going.

“I’ve heard people say a horse is so crazy, or it’s just bad. There is not a bad horse. There is something that causes them to misbehave or be angry, and if you can get to the bottom of that, you can figure them out.”

On Jan. 6, Nunn garnered career victory No. 300 at Tampa Bay Downs with Tapsolute, a 9-year-old gelding owned by Ramdeo Racing Stable. Tapsolute followed up that victory with another on Jan. 25.

“If you go by my record with older horses. … I just love them,” Nunn said. “I cherish bringing them up to a race and showing they can still win.”

Nunn, who has 18 horses at Tampa Bay Downs, gets just as emotional talking about his people. His wife of five years, owner Maria Claire Van Sant, “keeps the barn going. She loves the horses and she loves the sport, and she keeps me in line.

“My assistant, Fernando Arellano, has been with me three years, and he was with my brother before then. And my groom, Hector Sanchez, does a great job. It’s like a family,” Nunn said. “If you don’t have the help, you can’t do this. And I have the greatest owners,” he said, mentioning New Spice, Bright View Farm and Robert Juliano, just for starters.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and it keeps getting tougher, but to have the people behind you keeps you going.”

Now in his second season at Tampa Bay Downs, he states flatly that it is an ideal track to compete at, both for the quality of racing and the consistency of both racing surfaces.

“Everyone told me horses get sounder and really prosper when they leave here and can go and win anywhere else, and I’ve found that to be true,” he said. “Horses might come here a little beat up, but the (dirt) surface is outstanding, and it is almost like they’re getting a vacation.”

Bush nominated for award. Tampa Bay Downs jockey Vernon Bush, who has ridden 3,247 winners in a career spanning 45 years, is a nominee for the 2022 Randy Romero “Pure Courage” Award, which honors the late Hall of Fame member best known for his winning ride aboard unbeaten Personal Ensign in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs. Romero died in 2019 at 61 after battling severe health issues for years.

Previous winners include Miguel Mena, since deceased, and Marcelino Pedroza.

Fans can vote for their choice for the award by visiting the Randy Romero “Pure Courage” Award page on Facebook, clicking the “message” symbol and entering the name of their choice, or by e-mailing award co-founder and Romero’s former agent, Rick Mocklin, at . Voting will continue through Friday, Feb. 10, and the winner will be announced Feb. 13.

The other nominees include Vicente Del-Cid, runner-up in the balloting for the 2022 Eclipse Award as Outstanding Apprentice Jockey; Declan Cannon; Dylan Davis; Emanuel Nieves; and Patrick Canchari. Their qualifications are detailed on the award’s Facebook page. Canchari has been nominated, but cannot receive the award because his injury occurred in a car accident.

Bush, 61, did not ride from the summer of 2018 until March of last year because of a variety of injuries. In 2018, he suffered a broken right ankle that required surgery and a fractured left hip when a horse flipped over during a training accident.

He required a second surgery to repair his ankle after two screws broke, and the following December, he underwent hip-replacement surgery. He returned to the saddle in April of 2020, only to incur a broken left femur when a horse he was working in Ocala fell. That injury required a plate and 12 screws above his kneecap.

During his subsequent period of inactivity, Bush’s weight ballooned to 165 pounds, but he never lost the hope of returning to competition. Sober now for 22 months, Bush began his comeback here last March and won six races later in 2022 at Belterra Park outside Cincinnati.

He launched his comeback at Tampa Bay Downs and rode six winners last year at Belterra Park outside of Cincinnati.

Around the oval. Jose Batista and Antonio Gallardo each rode two winners today. Batista won the third race on Grand Player, a 4-year-old Florida-bred colt owned by Granpollo Stable and trained by Victor Barboza, Jr. He added the fourth race on the turf with General Robinson, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Beverly S. Anderson and Edward A. Seltzer and trained by Jorge Delgado.

Gallardo captured the first race on Hide the Demon, a 7-year-old horse owned by Mellon Patch and trained by Michael Campbell. Hide the Demon was claimed from the victory for $12,500 by new owner-trainer Juan Arriagada.

Gallardo added the seventh on the turf on Gratia Prince, a 3-year-old Florida-bred colt owned by Campbell Stable and trained by Kathleen O’Connell.

Trainer Jon Arnett sent out two winners, then bade both a fond farewell after they were claimed. He won the fifth race with Uptown Queen, a 6-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by Danny Stafford and ridden by Pablo Morales. Uptown Queen was claimed for $20,000 by trainer Gerard Ochoa for new owner GOP Racing Stable.

Arnett added the eighth with Lets Take It Izzy, a 5-year-old mare owned by Rodney M. Miller and ridden by Samy Camacho. Lets Take It Izzy was claimed for $6,250 by new owner-trainer Monica McGoey.