By Mike Henry —-
OLDSMAR, FL. – World Approval had already established himself as a heavyweight champion before his victory in today’s Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
But trainer Mark Casse learned today he has a 3-year-old in his barn who can trade punches with some of the best of his age group.
“He’s a fighter,” Casse said after his 3-year-old colt Flameaway fought back in deep stretch under jockey Jose Lezcano to defeat 7-10 favorite Catholic Boy by a half-length in the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race. “If you’ve ever watched him, you’ve seen that.
“The one thing about him is, if he gets in a battle, he’s going to win the battle.”
Flameaway, an Ontario-bred son of Scat Daddy-Vulcan Rose, by Fusaichi Pegasus, completed the mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track in 1:42.44 to establish a stakes record, .01 seconds faster than McCraken’s winning time last year.
Flameaway, who improved to 5-for-7 lifetime, is owned by John C. Oxley. He paid $22.60 to win. Vino Rosso rallied for third, three-quarters of a length behind Catholic Boy, with Hollywood Star fourth.
The Sam F. Davis was the highlight of an outstanding Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South afternoon of action that saw the 2017 Eclipse Award Champion Turf Male, 6-year-old gelding World Approval, hold on for a half-length victory from Forge in the Tampa Bay Stakes.
John Velazquez was aboard World Approval, breeder-owner Charlotte Weber’s pride and joy who has four consecutive victories and could be headed to Dubai for a $6-million race next month. World Approval paid $2.40 to win while racing the mile-and-a-sixteenth on grass in 1:40.66.
GRADE III, $250,000 SAM F. DAVIS STAKES; FLAMEAWAY
Winning trainer Mark Casse: “He’s a fighter. If you’ve ever watched him, you’ve seen that. With the track playing a little fast today, I told Jose (Lezcano) he was going to like this track. The one thing about him is, if he gets in a battle, he’s going to win the battle. As long as the track is fairly firm, I think he’ll run on anything. I would say there is a good chance (to return for the Grade II, $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10), but it’s something I have to talk to Mr. (John) Oxley about. I would also say I was kind of wishy-washy about trying him on dirt, and Mr. Oxley said ‘Can we do it one more time?’ He is the boss, so I said ‘Of course.’ ”
Winning jockey Jose Lezcano: “”He is a very nice horse who I think is improving with every race. He’s very quiet, not hyper at all, and he gives you what you ask for. I think he will be a nice horse in the future.”
Jonathan Thomas, trainer of runner-up Catholic Boy: “”I really need to watch the race again, but I thought it was a big effort giving 6 pounds. I’m happy because it was a good effort. I just need to see it again and digest the race.”
Also on the Festival Preview Day card, the Argentine-bred 6-year-old mare Dona Bruja turned the expected pace scenario of the Grade III, $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes upside down, leading from gate to wire under jockey Jose Ortiz to post a four-length victory from La Coronel.
Dona Bruja paid $4.80 to win as the second betting choice to La Coronel. The winner’s time for the mile-and-a-sixteenth was 1:40.92.
Ridden by Jose Ortiz, Dona Bruja is owned by Dom Felipe, LLC and trained by Ignacio Correas, IV.
In the other stakes on the card, 3-year-old filly C. S. Incharge, trained by Dale Romans and ridden by Joel Rosario, won the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes by three-quarters of a length from Daisy.
Two horses fell in the Tampa Bay Stakes, long shots Doctor Mounty and Cheyenne’s Colonel. Both horses completed the course riderless and appeared to be in good shape. The jockey on Doctor Mounty, Antonio Gallardo, was shaken up but returned to the jockey’s room under his own power.
Manoel Cruz, who rode Cheyenne’s Colonel, was transported to a local hospital for observation and had been diagnosed at press time with a possible wrist fracture.
GRADE III, $175,000 LAMBHOLM SOUTH ENDEAVOUR STAKES; WINNER: DONA BRUJA (ARG)
Winning trainer Ignacio Correas, IV: “I think that (going to the lead from the start) was Bruja’s plan, not our plan. I guess she does what she wants. She has so much talent. She’s had a couple of unlucky trips, but hopefully this will be her year. I couldn’t believe we were on the lead, but she broke sharp and she was fresh because she hasn’t raced in four months. I guess that’s why she went to the lead. She’s amazing, and I’m the luckiest guy to have her in my barn.”
Winning jockey Jose Ortiz: “That wasn’t really the plan. Ignacio told me to keep her relaxed and don’t change her style and let La Coronel go, and hopefully somebody would go after her. But (Dona Bruja) broke really good. I was a bit nervous going into the first turn on the lead, but she was pulling me, I guess because she was so fresh. I think she is going to move forward off this.”
Mark Casse, trainer of runner-up La Coronel: “Our filly broke a little slow, if not, they probably would have been head-to-head. She maybe was a little flat, but this is the beginning of the year. It’s supposed to get better from here.”
In the Sam F. Davis, Catholic Boy, under jockey Manuel Franco, stuck his head in front at the 1/8-mile pole, but Flameaway dug in on the rail and persevered for the victory.
“He gives you what you ask for,” said Lezcano, who was riding Flameaway for the first time. “He is a very nice horse who I think is improving with every race.”
Flameaway broke his maiden as a 2-year-old on the all-weather surface at Woodbine, won the Skidmore at Saratoga on a sloppy track, captured the Grade III Dixiana Bourbon at Keeneland on a sloppy track in a race taken off the turf and won the Kitten’s Joy at Gulfstream in his 3-year-old debut on the turf.
Versatility, thou name art Flameaway.
“I told Jose he was going to like this track,” Casse said. “As long as the track is fairly firm, I think he’ll run on anything. I would say there is a good chance (to return for the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 10), but it’s something I have to talk to Mr. Oxley about.
“I would also say I was kind of wishy-washy about trying him on dirt, and Mr. Oxley said ‘Can we do it one more time?’ He is the boss, so I said ‘Of course,’ ” Casse said with a broad smile.
Jonathan Thomas, the trainer of Catholic Boy, was proud of his horse’s effort in his first race since winning the Grade II Remsen in December at Aqueduct.
“I thought it was a big effort giving up weight (Catholic Boy carried top weight of 122 pounds, with Flameaway carrying 120 and the others assigned 116),” Thomas said. “I just need to see it again and digest the race.”
Although the Tampa Bay Stakes was marred by the accident on the turn for home, a crowd of 5,147 got what they came to see in world Approval, the Eclipse champ now 3-for-3 over the Tampa Bay Downs turf course.
“He’s a fighter, too,” Casse said. “He has been better than he was today, but hopefully this will set a nice foundation for him this year. He’s a funny horse – he is not going to let you by.”
Velazquez said World Approval was probably just short of his best form, having not raced since his Eclipse-clinching victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Nov. 4 at Del Mar.
“He was coming off a long layoff and sometimes they need a race, but he’s still a true champion and he put everybody away down the lane (although the William Mott-trained Forge and Franco were closing resolutely),” Velazquez said.
“I think when we passed a mile it was getting a little long for him with the layoff and (the extra sixteenth) hit him right in the head a little bit,” Velazquez added.
World Approval improved to 12-for-25 lifetime and the winner’s share of $115,000 raised his career earnings to $3,052,363.
GRADE III, $175,000 TAMPA BAY STAKES ; WORLD APPROVAL
NOTE TO MEDIA: Both horses involved in the Tampa Bay Stakes spill, Doctor Mounty and Cheyenne’s Colonel, appear unhurt and Antonio Gallardo, the jockey on Doctor Mounty, returned to the room shaken up but apparently unhurt. Manoel Cruz, who rode Cheyenne’s Colonel, was transported to a hospital but was alert and did not appear to be seriously injured.
Winning trainer Mark Casse: “I feel bad for the two horses that fell and those jockeys. He (World Approval) has been better than he was today, but hopefully this will set a nice foundation for him this year. He’s a funny horse – he is not going to let you by.”
Winning jockey John Velazquez: “He was coming off a long layoff and sometimes they need a race, but he’s still a true champion and he put everybody away down the lane. I think when we passed a mile it was getting a little long for him with the layoff and it (the extra sixteenth) hit him right in the head a little bit.”
Meanwhile, after the Lambholm South Endeavour, winning trainer Ignacio Correas had a hard time containing his emotions because of the tremendous performance turned in by his Argentine champion Dona Bruja, now 11-for-15 lifetime. Correas has trained her to three Grade III victories and a dead-heat for second in last year’s Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington since she came to the United States last spring.
“She has so much talent. She’s had a couple of unlucky trips, but hopefully this will be her year,” Correas said. “I think that (going to the lead from the start today) was Bruja’s plan, not ours. I guess she does what she wants. I couldn’t believe we were on the lead, but she broke sharp and she was fresh because she hadn’t raced in four months.
“She’s amazing, and I’m the luckiest guy to have her in my barn.”
Dona Bruja’s rider, 2017 Eclipse Champion Outstanding Jockey Jose Ortiz, spent a few anxious seconds heading into the clubhouse turn wondering how he was going to explain to Correas why the supposed come-from-behind mare had gotten loose on the lead.
Then, he realized he was riding a locomotive. “Ignacio told me to keep her relaxed and don’t change her style and let La Coronel go, and hopefully somebody would go after (La Coronel),” Ortiz said.
“But she broke really good and she was pulling me, I guess because she was so fresh. I think she is going to move forward off this.”
Ortiz was riding Dona Bruja for the first time.
Trainer Dale Romans hopes his winner in the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, C. S. Incharge, can use the 10 points she picked up on the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” to good use. She is being pointed in that direction after posting a ¾-length victory from 11-10 favorite Daisy in 1:41.40 for the mile-and-40-yard distance.
“She is a really nice horse,” said Romans, pointing out C. S. Incharge is a half-sister to his 2016 Preakness runner-up, Cherry Wine, and his 2017 Grade III Regret Stakes winner, Sweeping Paddy. “We’ll sit back and see what’s next, but hopefully we’ll make the Oaks with her.”
The victory was the second in six starts for C. S. Incharge, who is by Take Charge Indy out of the productive C. S. Royce, by Unbridled’s Song.
Mihrab rallied to finish third and pace-setter So Refined, a 26-1 shot, held on for fourth in the six-horse field.
Owned by William Pacella, Frank L. Jones, Jr., and Frank Shoop, C. S. Incharge paid $17.60 to win.
Winning jockey Joel Rosario secured an ideal position early, tracking So Refined, who raced the first quarter-mile in 23.72 seconds, the half in 47.29 and the 6 furlongs in 1:12.05.
“Dale told me to just ride the race as it came up and if someone else wanted to go to the lead, just sit behind. So I kind of let my horse be where she was and keep relaxed and keep her where she wouldn’t have her momentum stopped,” Rosario said.
“She was comfortable heading up the backstretch, and I was hoping turning for home that when I asked her, she’d have something to give, and she did. I’m so glad Dale gave me this opportunity,” Rosario said.
And for his part, Romans was grateful to Tampa Bay Downs Racing Secretary Allison De Luca for urging him to enter C. S. Incharge.
“She really helped me out, because she knew I was coming for the Sam F. Davis (with Hollywood Star) and she called me and said I should look at the filly race, too,” Romans said. “I listen to everything Allison tells me. She is one of the best in the game.”
Total all-sources wagering handle was $9,504,283.45, making it the second-highest Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South betting card in track history.
Around the oval. In the eighth race, a 7-furlong, maiden special weight contest for 3-year-old fillies, Cilantro lived up to her 1-2 odds, coasting to a 4-length victory from Contrarian. John Velazquez rode Cilantro, who sped the distance in 1:22.14, .74 seconds off the track record.
Cilantro is owned by Repole Stable and trained by Todd Pletcher. She had finished second in her career debut on Jan. 14 at Gulfstream.
Also turning in an outstanding maiden effort was 3-year-old colt Madison’s Luna, a first-time starter who won the fifth race in 1:15.76 for the 6 ½ furlongs, a mere .29 seconds off the track record.
Antonio Gallardo was the jockey. Madison’s Luna is owned by Rigney Racing and trained by Philip Bauer.
Jose Ferrer joined Velazquez in the two-victory club today. Ferrer won the fourth race on the turf on Crimson Hayes, a 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Vince Campanella and Nation’s Racing Stable and trained by Keith Nations.
Ferrer added the 12th race aboard Abie, a 6-year-old gelding owned and trained by Juan Arriagada.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:44 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.
Cover Photo: Flameaway; Tampa Bay Downs Photo
All Photos provided by Tampa Bay Downs