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Published Nov 22, 2023
by Mike Henry

OLDSMAR, FL. – Several thoughts flashed through Kevin Gomez’s mind as his mount in today’s first race, 2-year-old Florida-bred gelding Lord Knows, powered to a 6 ½-length victory on the renowned Tampa Bay Downs turf course.

Once the result was made official, the 29-year-old jockey wondered where this racetrack has been through his nine-year career.

“It feels amazing,” Gomez said of winning the first race he ever rode at the Oldsmar oval on the Opening Day card. “You always want to start a meet on the right foot, and this will let trainers see my name and give me a chance to ride their horses.”

A light mist fell between the third and fifth races, but the conditions did nothing to lessen the quality of racing nor the enjoyment of a festive holiday crowd of 2,821.

Despite finishing second at the recent Delaware Park meet with 59 winners, Gomez has been overshadowed by many of the more experienced jockeys here leading up to the 2023-2024 meet. That might not last for long.

“I’ve been here for two weeks, and I’m really liking it,” Gomez said. “My agent, Mark Mace, kept asking me if I wanted to come here, and I got a lot of advice from other people telling me to try it. So, here I am.

“I love the weather, of course, and the grass racing, and the friendly atmosphere. The jockeys help each other before the races, but once you break out of the gate you have no friends – you’re on your own,” Gomez said.

Gomez earned his second victory in the sixth race, piloting 2-year-old filly Lady Prospect to a front-running 3 ¾-length victory from the late-closing Copper Bound in the 5 ½-furlong maiden event. Lady Prospect is owned by Morris E. Kernan, Jr., and Jagger, Inc., and trained by Jamie Ness, who won a record nine consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training titles from 2006 through 2015.

Gomez’s fellow jockey and competitor Alonso Quinonez is delighted to return. He rides for trainer Tim Padilla, and the duo has enjoyed plenty of success in recent summers at Canterbury Park in Minnesota, where Quinonez tied for fifth in the jockey standings and Padilla took sixth among trainers.

They teamed to win the second and third races with a pair of 3-year-old Florida-breds. Their filly Miss Mac Mac, bred and owned by Peter D. Mattson, improved to 3-for-7 with a 6-furlong tally in the second race, followed by their gelding Summer All Year’s triumph going a mile-and-40 yards. Summer All Year was bred and is owned in partnership by Mattson and Padilla.

“I just want to say thank you to God and to the connections, Tim Padilla and Peter Mattson,” said Quinonez, a heady veteran whose 11 career graded-stakes victories include five Grade Is. “Tim has been doing this for a long time, and he knows how to get his horses ready and put them in the right races.”

Win or lose, Quinonez enjoys returning to the Tampa Bay area, an emotion of course heightened in proportion to his trips to the winner’s circle.

“I love the weather here. I love the people,” Quinonez said. “It’s a good environment for racing.”

Samy Camacho, who is bidding this season to win a fourth consecutive Oldsmar jockeys title and fifth overall, was the third jockey to ride two winners. Camacho scored in the fourth race on Vegas Playboy, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Monmouth Stud and Pinnacle Racing Team and trained by Gregg Sacco. Camacho added the seventh on the turf on Never So Lucky, a 3-year-old filly owned by Monster Racing Stables and trained by Jose H. Delgado.

In the featured eighth race, a $53,000, 6-furlong allowance/optional claiming race for horses 3-years-old-and-upward, 6-year-old Florida-bred Feast responded to strong urging from jockey Jose Ferrer, pulling away late for a 6 ¼-length victory from 66-1 shot Big Louie. Bring Theband Home was third.

Feast is owned by Winning Stables, Inc., and Averill Racing, LLC and trained by Gerald Bennett, the track’s reigning training champ and owner of Winning Stables.

Feast, a stakes winner who is now 8-for-25, was gelded over the summer, then turned out for some “R & R” at Martin Goodell’s Swanzey Stables South in Ocala. The surgery and the rest, followed by two super-sharp workouts on the Oldsmar oval surface, had him about at his peak, as he raced the distance in 1:09.49, .82 seconds off the track record.

Bennett has won the last eight Oldsmar training titles.

Around the oval. Tampa Bay Downs is closed Thursday to enable track employees, horsemen and jockeys to celebrate Thanksgiving with their loved ones. Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:42 p.m. The co-features are the fourth and seventh races, both $54,000 allowance/optional claiming races on the turf.

The fourth race, for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward at a distance of a mile, has drawn 11 entrants, while the seventh, for horses 3-and-upward sprinting 5 furlongs, has attracted 14. Both races are restricted to 10 runners.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter) for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

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