Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Six stakes victories over the holiday . . .
    D. J. Stable’s Renegade Rebel led from gate to wire and held on gamely to capture Saturday’s $150,900 Mazarine Stakes (G3) at Woodbine by a neck. It’s the first stakes win for the 2-year-old daughter of Nyquist, now 5-2-1-1 with $123,074 in earnings for trainer Mark Casse. Consigned by Eisaman Equine, Agent, to the 2022 OBS Spring Sale, she was purchased for $700,000 after breezing an eighth in :10 flat at the Under Tack Show.

    Ashbrook Farm and Upland Flats Racing’s Red Carpet Ready is two for two and a stakes winner after leading a 1-2-3 OBS Spring sweep of the $200,000 Fern Creek Stakes at Churchill Downs on Saturday. She scored by 3-1/4 lengths over Twirled, with Key of Life checking in third. Consigned by Mayberry Farm, Agent, to the 2022 OBS Spring Sale, the 2-year-old filly by Oscar Performance went through the ring after breezing an Under Tack eighth in :10 1/5. Trained by Rusty Arnold, she has earned $191,070. 

A trio of OBS Spring grads posted stakes wins at Aqueduct.

    Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s Acoustic Ave chased front-running fellow OBS graduate Don’t Lose Cruz (April ’22) in Friday’s $97,000 Notebook Stakes, took over after turning for home and held his rival safe to score by half a length. It’s the third straight stakes win for the 2-year-old colt by Maclean’s Music, consigned to the 2022 OBS Spring Sale by Sequel Bloodstock, Agent for Chester & Mary Broman, and sold for $200,000 after turning in an Under Tack eighth in :10 flat. Now 5-4-0-1 for trainer Christophe Clement, he has earned $281,260.

    Colts Neck Stable’s Nothing Better took the lead at the start of Friday’s $150,000 Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship Stakes, was headed briefly at the top of the stretch, then came again to win by half a length. It’s the second stakes victory for the 5-year-old son of Munnings, purchased for $230,000 out of the Brick City Thoroughbreds consignment at the 2019 OBS Spring Sale after breezing an Under Tack eighth in:10 1/5. Trained by Jorge Duarte, Jr., he has compiled an 18-7-2-3 career record and earned $356,317.   

    Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable and Twin Sports Racing’s Sweetlou’sgotaces picked a good spot to break her maiden, going right to the front in Sunday’s $120,00 Tepin Stakes and never looking back, drawing off to win by four lengths. Raymond Handal trains the 2-year-old filly by Constitution, now 4-1-2-0 with earnings of $104,750. She turned in an Under Tack eighth in :10 2/5 at the 2022 OBS Spring Sale and was purchased for $60,000 out of the Off the Hook consignment

    Tommy Town Thoroughbreds’s Sally’s Sassy, rated early in Friday’s $54,400 Golden Gate Debutante Stakes, turned in a strong stretch run and was up late to score by a nose. It’s the first stakes win for the 2-year-old filly by West Coast, now 4-2-0-1 with $87,850 in earnings for trainer Jonathan Wong. She turned in an Under Tack eighth in :10 2/5 at the 2022 OBS Spring Sale before she was purchased for $100,000 out of the de Meric Sales consignment.
Monday, November 28, 2022
Turf racing returns Thursday . . .
    HALLANDALE BEACH - The Saffie Joseph Jr.-trained Fawning and Midnight Bella had the distinction of being the first horses to breeze over Gulfstream Park’s new turf course this morning, three days prior to the long-awaited return of turf racing on Thursday’s program.

    Fawning, ridden by veteran jockey Julien Leparoux, and Midnight Bella, guided by former jockey Aaron Gryder, worked a half-mile in company on the outer part of the course. Fawning raced outside Midnight Bella before getting the better of her workmate nearing the wire. The official clocking for the easy breeze was :53.40 seconds.

    “It was very nice. It obviously was great looking, but it felt good to be on it too. The horse got over it very nicely,” Leparoux said. “There’s a nice cushion and when we came back there weren’t very many divots.”

    Gryder, who rode 3,905 winners before stepping away in 2020 and taking a management position with Gulfstream’s parent company I/ST Racing, was equally pleased with the condition of the turf course.
    “They skipped over nicely. There’s a good cushion to it and they weren’t cutting into it much,” said Gryder, Senior Vice President of Racing Operations.

    Joseph, the leading trainer during the current Sunshine Meet after claiming his first Championship Meet title last winter and capturing the spring/summer Royal Palm Meet title, is obviously looking forward to the return of turf racing that came to a halt in June for the construction of the new course that is virtually identical to the one at sister track Santa Anita.

    “Tapeta has been a good filler, but you obviously want to have the turf as an option,” Joseph said. “Fawning worked on it and she’s going to run on it on Sunday. Midnight Bella is going to run next week. Both of them are going to run on the grass, so it was good to get a work on it. It’s a firm turf, but you’re not hearing any noise. Sometimes you hear horses rattle, but this has a good cushion. It’s in great shape.”

Friday, November 25, 2022
Greg's family raced at Sunshine Park . . .
    OLDSMAR --trainer Greg Sacco scrolled through his Smartphone to locate a black-and-white win picture taken in 1950 – 15 years before he was born – when Tampa Bay Downs was called Sunshine Park.

    The winner, a horse named Earthquake, was trained by Greg’s father, William J. Sacco, and ridden by Greg’s uncle, John Sacco. Also in the picture is another one of Greg’s uncles, Tony, who owned a luncheonette and gas station back then on the corner of Racetrack Road, just south of the track.

    His father and uncles have passed, but for Greg Sacco, their legacy endures.

    Since arriving here with a string of 25 horses a few weeks before the new meet began, Sacco and his family – wife Kate, son Will and daughter Sydney, a college student – have found time to enjoy many of the sights that have long made the Tampa Bay area (they love downtown Safety Harbor!) such a popular winter destination.

    Yet with the exception of a second-place finish by Psychic Ability in the 2021 Florida Cup Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, the 57-year-old Sacco has spent recent winters in New York, the mid-Atlantic and south Florida, where it proved profitable to operate his high-profile stable while getting ready to return each summer to his home track, Monmouth Park.

    That’s about to change. Greg Sacco is loving just about everything at Tampa Bay Downs, and with many of his horses about to turn 3, he’s eager to utilize the track and the surroundings to develop them to their utmost ability.

    “They have a great 3-year-old stakes program here, and we think some of our 2-year-olds (who turn 3 on Jan. 1) can be competitive at that level,” said Sacco, who has nominated Pinnacle Racing Team and Madaket Stables’ promising stakes-placed colt Freedom Road to the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes on Dec. 3.

    “This track is outstanding to train on, and the people here can’t be any nicer. We’re the oldest racing family in New Jersey and I still train for Steve Brunetti’s Red Oak Stable (Steve is the son of the late John Brunetti, who owned Red Oak and Hialeah Park). But if everything works out we plan to be here again next year,” Sacco said.

    This is what is known as a whirlwind courtship. In the interest of full disclosure, Sacco made those remarks after his 2-year-old colt, Imagoodfella, won today’s first race under a rail-skimming ride by Angel Arroyo.

    Imagoodfella broke his maiden for owners Monmouth Stud and Phillip Wright. For good measure, Sacco won the sixth race with 3-year-old filly Woods Hole, owned by Winner Circle Stables and ridden by Jose Ferrer (one of three victories for the 58-year-old Ferrer).

    Serious racing fans are well-acquainted with Sacco, who has trained more than 750 winners. He won five graded stakes with Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables’ Mind Control, including the Grade I Hopeful and the Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Stakes. Sacco also trained Joevia, who finished third in the 2019 Belmont Stakes (won by Sir Winston) after leading into the stretch.

    Will Sacco, his father’s assistant, turned 22 today, celebrating his birthday with a pair of winner’s-circle photos with his dad. Despite his youth, Will is no Johnny-come-lately to the sport, having spent most of his summers around his dad’s Monmouth Park barn growing up.

    “It’s the family business, and I love the sport and the animals themselves,” said Will, who attended the University of Kentucky for a month before he decided to answer the call of the backstretch and come back home.

    Will plans to go out on his own as a trainer when he and his dad agree he is ready. “I knew when I left college about the commitment and the sacrifices you have to make,” Will said. “It’s seven days a week, and you never know when you’ll get a call at 2 a.m. that a horse got cast in his stall or something else went wrong.

    “My mom knows how tough a business it is, and she tried to persuade me to be a doctor or a lawyer – not pressuring me, but reminding me what’s involved. But just being around them, seeing them grow up and go from 2 to 3 and develop into racehorses, is something I love. Our family history goes back to the 1940s, and hopefully I can have a son who will be a fourth-generation horse trainer.”

    As long as that enthusiasm persists on days when his dad doesn’t win two races – and there is every sign it will – the possibility seems high.

    Wanna stuff that stocking? Test your skills in “10 Days of Festivus” contest. Registration for the free “10 Days of Festivus Challenge” Online Handicapping Contest begins Thursday, with the contest getting underway Saturday, Dec. 3 and running through Friday, Dec. 23.

    Here is how the contest works: Each day, players select a horse in both of that day’s “Challenge Races,” with bankroll results determined from a mythical $2 win-place-show (across-the-board) wager. Should a player’s choice not finish in the money, they lose a lifeline, and when you run out of lifelines, your participation ends.

    Players begin the contest with one free lifeline. Two additional lifelines can be purchased for $5 each upon registration, with more lifelines available for purchase on Dec. 14 and Dec. 21 (check the contest rules for cost).

    Prizes will be awarded based on the highest final bankroll totals upon conclusion of the contest, with a grand prize of $1,000 and a second-place prize of $500.

    The full rules are available online at www.festivuschallenge.com

    Around the oval. No bettor hit the late Pick-5 today, creating a carryover pool of $38,644 into Saturday. The late Pick-5 will begin with the fifth race.

    Ferrer, as mentioned above, rode three winners today. In addition to his score on Woods Hole, Ferrer won the third race on Justintimeforwine, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Carole Star Stables and trained by Jose H. Delgado. Ferrer added the eighth on Pretty Rachel, a 4-year-old filly owned by Mary T. Self and trained by Scooter Davis.

    Arroyo won two races. Besides tallying on Imagoodfella, he won the fourth race with Shed a Tear, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Angel M. Ubarri and trained by Victor Carrasco, Jr.

Thursday, November 24, 2022
Friendships renewed after long summer . . .

    OLDSMAR - For so many of the horsemen and jockeys who have returned to Tampa Bay Downs, yesterday’s Opening Day card was like a family reunion. Seeing people they haven’t crossed paths with in six or seven months, and often much longer, is a priceless feeling.

    No one really comes here to get rich, although a select few will profit handsomely through equine talent, training and riding skills, determination and the one variable – luck – everyone hopes lands on their shoulder.

    But in addition to the weather, which you can’t help mentioning if you’ve come here from just about any track except Gulfstream, it’s the friendships and the shared responsibility of putting on a great show that fill hearts with hope and a strong reminder of why they entered the sport/business in the first place.

    “Everyone is real nice here. It’s gotten to where racing is real businesslike, but here at Tampa it’s still like a family deal,” said owner-trainer Robert G. Smith, who owns 104-acre Wesfield Farm in Ocala and has 12 stalls on the Oldsmar backside. “We don’t see most of these people all summer, so it’s like coming home for the holidays.

    “Even the people who come to the races, people we’ve gotten to know over the last 10 years, come up and want to know how your horse is doing,” Smith said.

    His operation, while large, is also a family affair. His wife Saronda and sons Drake and Rhett all are actively involved, sharing the good times and working as a team through the dry spells.

    “When you run your horses in the right spots, you can win races and make money here,” said Smith, who trained former 6 ½-furlong track record-holder White Merlot (Drake owned the filly).

    But with everyone chasing the same pot of gold, other benefits to being here are heightened in importance.

    “You look at the job (the track’s maintenance department) does with the dirt course and the turf course, they are both safe and consistent,” Smith said. “They do a heck of a job, and that helps make it a good place to run a horse.”

    Before Antonio Gallardo won five Tampa Bay Downs riding titles, including three in a row from 2014-2016, he struggled to make a name for himself after arriving stateside from Spain, his homeland. Some observers pointed to his 2013 Challenger Stakes victory aboard Flatter This for trainer Kathleen O’Connell as a key turning point for the jockey, but Gallardo knows “belonging” at Tampa Bay Downs extends beyond having the confidence to compete on the track.

    “For me, this is home. This is where my business started to pick up, and it’s where I’m raising my family,” said the 35-year-old Gallardo, whose 2,300-plus career victories include 11 graded stakes. “And a lot of people watch Tampa, so no matter where you go during the summer, they’re going to know you.”

    Gallardo and his wife, Polliana, have also formed lasting relationships with members of the Tampa Bay Downs fan base they richly cherish. “Walking back after a race, I can hear people say my name. It’s a great feeling that they come here to see you,” he said.

    Looking for more insight into what makes this place feel like that well-worn couch your pop falls asleep on every Sunday? Consider the case of owner-trainer Juan Arriagada’s 10-year-old gelding Native Hawk, dismissed by some before today’s third race as too old for the rigors of racing.

    But with jockey Jose Batista keeping the ancient warrior within striking distance of pace-setter Bazoo throughout, Native Hawk did what he has always done best – try. His effort resulted in a head victory, the 19th of his career and his 11th victory in 31 career starts (with six seconds and five thirds) on the Oldsmar dirt.

    “He has that competitive spirit. He likes to win,” said Arriagada, who plans to run Native Hawk two or three more times before retiring him to a nearby farm. “When he wins, he comes back to the barn feeling he’s the best of the best. When he comes out of his stall tomorrow, he’ll be acting powerful because he knows what he did. That old man is pretty amazing.”

    Tampa Bay Downs might not have the restorative powers of the Fountain of Youth, but it’s a great place to slow the inevitable onslaught of time – for trainers, jockeys, fans and horses, all eager to extend the welcome to newbies.

    Around the oval - - The victory aboard Native Hawk was one of two today for Batista, who also won the second race on 3-year-old filly Peppermint Class, a first-time starter, for owner Mastic Beach Racing and trainer Diane Morici.

    Batista recently returned to action at Gulfstream Park after being sidelined almost four months with ankle and heel fractures suffered in a fall at Monmouth. He had four seconds from 15 mounts at Gulfstream, and his agent, Eddie Joe Zambrana, welcomed him back with a crushing bear hug after the victory on Peppermint Class.

    Jesus Castanon also rode two winners. He won the sixth race, the “Happy Thanksgiving” purse, on Cerulean, a 4-year-old filly owned by Tobin Stables and trained by Kerri Raven. Castanon added the eighth race on Remuda, a 3-year-old colt bred and owned by Godolphin and trained by Eoin Harty.

    Nominations released for Inaugural, Sandpiper Stakes. The first two stakes races of the 2022-2023 meet, the Inaugural for 2-year-olds and the Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, have each drawn 21 nominations. The $100,000, 6-furlong events will be run Dec. 3.

    Among the nominations for the 37th running of the Inaugural is Lea Farms, LLC’s colt Super Chow, who won the $200,000 Bowman Mill Stakes on Oct. 29 at Keeneland by 5 lengths in his most recent start. Jorge Delgado trains Super Chow, who finished third in the Grade II Saratoga Special Stakes on Aug. 13.

    Also nominated to the Inaugural are stakes winners Acoustic Ave, owned by Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and trained by Christophe Clement, and the gelding Howgreatisnate, owned by Imaginary Stables and trained by Andrew Simoff, as well as stakes-placed Freedom Road, owned by Pinnacle Racing Team and trained by Gregory Sacco.

    Dorth Vader, a 2-year-old Florida-bred filly who won the Juvenile Fillies Sprint Stakes on Oct. 29 at Gulfstream Park in her most recent start, is among the leading nominees for the 45th Sandpiper. She is owned by her breeder, John Ropes, and trained by Michael Yates.

    Other top Sandpiper nominees include stakes-placed Florida-bred Oh Darlin, owned by Laurie Plesa and trained by her husband, Edward Plesa Jr., and Personal Pursuit, owned by Tracy Farmer and trained by Mark Casse.

    Rare occurrence, indeed. Yesterday’s card marked only the second Opening Day at Tampa Bay Downs this century without a turf race. The 4th and 6th races were switched to the main track due to wet grounds.

    The last time it happened was Dec. 17, 2002 – three days after the originally scheduled Opening Day card was cancelled due to heavy rains, followed by severe flooding. The 11th race was carded for the turf, but the grounds still proved too wet for an attempt.

    The only other Opening Day card without a grass race since the turf course debuted on May 2, 1998 occurred on Dec. 18, 1999, when the only scheduled turf race on the card was switched to the main track due to persistent showers and wet ground.

    Given this history, racing fans can expect plenty of spectacular turf racing this season at the track once known as Sunshine Park.

    Attendance - 2,770; Handle - $180,965. ITW - $97,673. ISW - $2,961,911.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022
Meet runs through May 6 . . .
    OLDSMAR - Tampa Bay Downs launches its 97th anniversary season of Thoroughbred racing on Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:38 p.m.

    The 92-day meet runs through May 6, plus the season-ending card that kicks off next year’s Summer Festival of Racing on June 30. Racing will be held each Wednesday, Friday and Saturday through Dec. 31, with Sundays added to the mix on Jan. 1. There will also be a Thursday card on Dec. 22.

    Opening Day admission is free, as it is all Wednesdays during the meet. General admission is $3 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with children 12-and-under free when accompanied by an adult. Reserved seating and box seats, which are available from ushers on race days, are $5.

    Tampa Bay Downs will be closed Thursday for Thanksgiving, as well as Dec. 25 for Christmas and April 9 for Easter.

    In addition to its racing schedule, Tampa Bay Downs will present a full slate of fun events for fans of all ages throughout the meet. The promotional calendar kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 3 with the free-to-enter “10 Days of Festivus” Online Handicapping Contest, which runs through Dec. 23 and awards a first-place prize of $1,000.

    The following Saturday, Dec. 10, Tampa Bay Downs will play host to the “Corgi Races After the Races,” non-wagering canine affairs that delight even the most grizzled of $2 bettors.

    The competition on the racetrack promises to be fast and intense. Last season’s leading trainer, Gerald Bennett, and the top jockey, Samy Camacho, have returned to defend their titles. Bennett, who won 36 races last season, is seeking an unprecedented eighth consecutive uncontested title and ninth overall (Jamie Ness won nine in a row, but shared the title in 2009-2010 with Kathleen O’Connell and in 2010-2011 with Bennett).

    Most of Bennett’s top challengers are back and eager to knock him from his perch, including two-time champion O’Connell, last season’s runner-up with 30 victories; Juan Arriagada, fourth with 23; Anthony Granitz, fifth with 21; Jon Arnett, sixth with 19; and Arnaud Delacour, who tied for seventh with 17.

    Camacho, who rode 85 winners for his third crown in the last four seasons, will also be hard-pressed to stay on top. His main rivals should include 2022-2023 runner-up Pablo Morales, who won his eighth title at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., this year; six-time Oldsmar riding champion Daniel Centeno, who tied for fourth with 42; Hector Rafael Diaz Jr., who also won 42; and five-time champion Antonio Gallardo.

    Another jockey who could share the spotlight is 19-year-old apprentice Madeline “Maddie” Rowland, ninth last season with 34 winners. Newcomers who could make an impact include Angel Arroyo, who has almost 1,300 career victories, and Marcos Meneses.

    Fans will be greeted by a revamped tote board displaying the “Live it up at the Downs!” logo and new seating throughout the Grandstand. The track maintenance department has installed new breakaway PVC rails around the main dirt track and the inside of the turf course, designed to give way in case of a collision with a horse and/or rider and prevent serious injury.

    The track’s stakes schedule (see attached), which consists of 26 races worth $3.46 million in total purse money, gets underway on Saturday, Dec. 3 with a pair of $100,000, 6-furlong sprints: the 37th edition of the Inaugural Stakes for 2-year-olds and the 45th Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Both races have drawn 21 nominations.

    The biggest race of the season is the 43rd edition of the Gr. II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-olds on Saturday, March 11. The race is part of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” qualifying series, awarding points to the first four finishers toward qualifying for the Run for the Roses on May 6 at Churchill Downs.

    The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, which is run on the main track at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth, is one of five stakes – four graded – worth a combined $1-million on the Festival Day 43 card, including the Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the turf, for older fillies and mares; the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks on the turf, for 3-year-old fillies; the Grade III, $100,000 Michelob Ultra Challenger Stakes on the main, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward; and the $75,000 Columbia Stakes on the turf, for 3-year-olds.

    The next biggest day of the season is Feb. 11, with four stakes headed by the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds. The Sam F. Davis is the main prep race for the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and is also a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race.

    The remaining two Tampa Bay Downs graded stakes will be contested Feb. 4, both on the turf: the Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-and-upward and the Grade III, $175,000 Endeavour Stakes for fillies and mares 4-and-upward.

    Wednesday’s card includes a pair of feature races worth $27,000 apiece. The second race, a 7-furlong maiden special weight contest for fillies and mares 3-and-upward, has attracted six 3-year-olds, with Glen Hill Farm’s Kentucky-bred Wandering accorded 9-5 morning-line status.

    Wandering is trained by Tom Proctor and will be ridden by Jesus Castanon.

    The other co-feature is the eighth race, a 6-furlong allowance/optional claiming race for horses 3-and-upward. Ten are entered, with 5-year-old gelding Expensive Style 5-2 in the morning line. He is owned and trained by Arriagada and will be ridden by Jose Batista.