Faction Cat Smashes Tampa Turf Course Record
Sunday, February 23, 2020
    OLDSMAR - After her 7-year-old gelding Faction Cat toyed with five opponents in the Turf Dash Prep here on Jan. 24, trainer Georgina Baxter expected even better things in Saturday’s main event, the $100,000 Turf Dash Stakes.

    “I said last week, the way he ran here last time and the way he’s been training, I knew he would step up and turn in a big performance today,” said Baxter, who thought the Tampa Bay Downs 5-furlong turf course record could be in jeopardy.

    Baxter experienced the exultation of having her hopes fulfilled as Faction Cat broke alertly, established a quick lead and went into cruise-control mode up the backstretch under jockey Albin Jimenez, who was riding the Florida-bred son of Wildcat Heir for the first time.

    Faction Cat courageously staved off a belated late run by 2-1 favorite Justaholic, posting a ¾-length victory in course-record time of 53.97 seconds, .66 hundredths faster than Bold Thunder’s 2015 stakes and course record. Mai Ty One On finished third, with End Play fourth in the 10-horse field.

    The 16th edition of the Turf Dash was the first of two stakes on Turf Sprint Showcase Day. Two races later, i
n the 16th running of the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes for older fillies and mares, 5-year-old Jean Elizabeth extended her winning streak to seven races – all in stakes – with a gritty half-length victory over 33-1 shot Miss Deplorable.

    The Gr. III winner Jean Elizabeth, who was also ridden by Jimenez, set a stakes record of 55.09 seconds, .28 hundredths better than Miz Mayhem’s winning time in last season’s Lightning City.

    Faction Cat improved to 8-for-33 lifetime, with 13 seconds, and the $60,000 winner’s share of the purse as a Florida-bred raised his career bankroll to $334,634. He paid $11.40 to win. Bred by Ann Ferrentino, he is owned by Sabrina Machado-Chin’s Asterace Group LLC, which purchased him privately after a victory at Colonial Downs in allowance/optional claiming company on Sept. 5. Faction Cat set blazing fractions of 20.61 seconds for the first quarter-mile and 42.66 for the half, perhaps tiring imperceptibly late.

    He had finished second to Turf Dash second-choice Extravagant Kid, beaten only a length, in the Janus Stakes on Dec. 28 at Gulfstream Park after leading into the stretch. That race had been switched from the turf to the main track, and Baxter was heartened by his effort that day.

    “Jose Ortiz (the jockey on Faction Cat that day) said if that race had stayed on the grass, it would have been a different story,” she said. “I was very confident today, and I told (Jimenez) this horse is a lot sharper than he used to be.”

    The Lightning City unfolded in similar fashion to the Turf Dash, with Jean Elizabeth breaking alertly and setting a quick pace (20.83 seconds for the quarter-mile, 43.57 for the half), with Escapade and R Happy Ending not letting her get too far away. Through the stretch, Jean Elizabeth turned back a valiant try by R Happy Ending to narrow the deficit, then had enough in the tank to keep Miss Deplorable a half-length behind. R Happy Ending lasted for third and Ode to Joy finished fourth.

    The Lightning City was only Jean Elizabeth’s second lifetime turf start, having won the Ladies’ Turf Sprint in her previous start on Jan. 25 at Gulfstream. She is 14-for-20 lifetime with four seconds, and has never finished worse than third. First-place money of $45,000 upped her career earnings to $607,668. Jean Elizabeth, a striking gray Illinois-bred daughter of Ocala Stud Farm's 2020 leading Florida sire, Adios Charlie, is owned by breeders Larry Rivelli and Richard Ravin in partnership with Vince Foglia’s Patricia’s Hope LLC. Rivelli trains the mare.

    “She’s just an amazing horse. She’ll run on broken glass, I guess,” Rivelli said from Chicago, where he was planning to attend son Dominick’s hockey game. “It’s been a total team effort with her from day one, and you just pinch yourself with a horse like this. I thought she made the lead pretty easy and he didn’t send her, but then I saw the fractions and they were flying. It looked like those others were taking a shot at her in the stretch, but he kind of angled her out and she took off again.”

    Jimenez, who had ridden Jean Elizabeth to victory on Dec. 6 on Turfway Park’s all-weather track in the Holiday Inaugural Stakes, sensed her determination today to not get beat. I knew when I asked her she would take me there. She is a game mare, and she has a big heart,” Jimenez said. “She keeps improving every race.”

AROUND THE OVAL - Leading jockey Antonio Gallardo rode three winners Saturday. He won the fourth race aboard Pretty Chitu, a 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Francisco Alanis and trained by Antonio Machado. Gallardo returned to the winner’s circle after the fifth race, the Lambholm South Race of the Week on the turf, with Serve the King, a 4-year-old colt owned by Peter Brant and trained by Chad Brown.

    Gallardo’s third victory came in the ninth on Our Petunia, a 4-year-old filly owned by Lucio Tucci and trained by Joan Scott.
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