By Mike Henry —-
OLDSMAR, FL. – The Tampa Bay Downs stakes program shifts into high gear Saturday with the track’s annual Skyway Festival Day program, featuring a pair of 7-furlong races for 3-year-olds and a mile-and-a-sixteenth contest for older fillies and mares.
At least three stakes-winning sophomores are expected for the 19th edition of the $125,000 Pasco Stakes, which is the Oldsmar oval’s traditional lead-up race to the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race, scheduled on Feb. 10.
That group of black-type winners includes the Horacio DePaz-trained, Florida-bred colt He Hate Me, who won the Tremont Stakes last June at Belmont; conditioner Teresa Connelly’s gelding Driven by History, another Florida-bred who won the Fitz Dixon, Jr. Memorial Juvenile Stakes in October at Presque Isle Downs; and Awaken, trainer Tim Hamm’s 3-year-old colt who boasts stakes victories last year at both ThistleDown and Belterra Park in Ohio.
The 34th running of the $125,000 Gasparilla Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, a precursor to the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes – a “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points race – on Feb. 10, will likely feature the return to competition of Almond Roca, who won the 6-furlong Sandpiper Stakes here on Dec. 16 by nine-and-a-quarter lengths. She is trained by H. Graham Motion.
Almond Roca could face stiff competition from the likes of Homemade Salsa, the Mike Maker-trained lass who won the Juvenile Fillies Turf Stakes in November at Gulfstream Park West, and Barrier Island, who broke her maiden last month at Gulfstream Park for Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III.
The third stakes on the Skyway Festival Day card is the 34th annual, $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes. The leading contenders appear to be Tapa Tapa Tapa, last year’s Suncoast Stakes winner from the barn of Tim Hamm; 5-year-old Tin Type Gal, a multiple-Grade III stakes winner trained by Motion; and McGaughey’s Grade III-placed 5-year-old Tejana.
Around the oval. McGaughey, known as the trainer of Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer, undefeated champion and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Personal Ensign, 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb, two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Lure and so many others, captured career victory No. 1,995 in today’s third race on the turf when 5-year-old Doctor Mounty rallied for a neck victory from pace-setter and favorite Western Reserve.
Antonio Gallardo rode Doctor Mounty, who is owned by Larry Pratt and Dave Alden. That was one of three victories today for the track’s leading jockey, who has accomplished that feat six times in the last 11 racing days.
Gallardo won the first race on 4-year-old Bella Vincenza for owners Pinnacle Racing Stable and Stein Racing and trainer Kathleen O’Connell. He added the fifth race aboard Monkey Money, a 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Ups and Downs Racing and trained by Monte Thomas.
In today’s ninth race, a mile-and-40-yard maiden special weight event for 3-year-olds, Road to Damascus overcame an awkward start and a belated charge by Navy Armed Guard to triumph by a neck in 1:41.68 for the mile-and-40-yard distance.
Road to Damascus, who was making his second start, was ridden by Daniel Centeno. The colt is owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing and trained by Todd Pletcher.
He is extremely well-bred, being by Pioneerof the Nile out of Saint Bernadette (a graded-stakes placed daughter of Saint Ballado), which makes him a full brother to Social Inclusion, who finished third in both the Grade I Twinspires.com Wood Memorial and the Preakness in 2014.
Centeno also won the seventh race, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week, on 4-year-old filly Small Rebellion for owner Lael Stables and trainer Arnaud Delacour.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Wednesday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.