Fortunately for the Tampa resident, Arena Elvira’s abundance of ability and determination made her well in a hurry.
Dash Dot Dash finished six lengths back in third, a nose ahead of pace setter Taylors Irish. The winner – trained by Hall of Fame conditioner William Mott – paid $3.80 as a heavy favorite while earning $30,000, increasing her career bankroll to $421,436. She has won eight of her 13 lifetime starts and never finished out of the money.
“I was scared,” Wilson said of the wait between the finish and the posting of Arena Elvira’s No. 2 atop the tote board. “I kept saying, ‘Did she really win?’ I wasn’t about to go downstairs until I was sure. I wasn’t thinking anything except, heaven help me.”
Arena Elvira, a daughter of Ghostzapper-Two Item Limit, by Twining, was by far the most accomplished of the seven Wayward Lass entrants. She had four consecutive stakes victories entering the race, including the Grade III Turnback the Alarm Handicap at Aqueduct and the Grade II Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs last fall.
Still, although she had been training well at Payson Park Thoroughbred Training Center in Indiantown, her connections realized the Wayward Lass was far from an easy spot for her 2012 debut.
“I was worried the whole day,” Wilson said. “I know what can happen.”
Mark Schreiber, Mott’s assistant, said Arena Elvira arrived at Tampa Bay Downs at 1:30 p.m. on Friday and schooled in the paddock during the eighth race. “She had never been on this track, but Payson is kind of a deep track too and can be pretty tiring on horses,” Schreiber said.
“Leandro had to go a little wide, but when she kicked it in she came on. She showed a lot of heart today.”
Goncalves probably would have preferred to win by more, but was smiling broadly after getting the job done the hard way.
“We might have looked the best on paper, but you had to prove it out there today,” he said. “We were well back early but she was very relaxed and I knew she would give me a run.
“When I asked her getting to the turn, we got in between horses and I had to hold on to her,” Goncalves said. “The only way to make a run was to swing out wide getting into the stretch. After that, we just roared by horses and got to (R Gypsy Gold).”
The runner-up, owned by E. Paul Robsham Stables and trained by Todd Pletcher, had run third last summer in the Grade I Mother Goose at Belmont and won the Real Prize Stakes at Belmont last October. Pedro Cotto, Jr., her jockey, thought she had stolen the decision before Arena Elvira snatched it away.
“We really had the perfect trip,” Cotto said. “She made a big run into the turn and getting into the stretch I was sure we had it. We were still going fast, but the other one was faster.”
Wilson was accompanied to the winner’s circle by her friends Charles and Shirley McKinney, Brian Dillion, Chris Bridges and Joe Argentine. “I love Tampa Bay Downs, and what better way to win it than with your racetrack buddies,” she said.
Mott also won the eighth race, a mile-and-a-sixteenth maiden special weight turf event, with 3-year-old colt Hawkedon for owner Juddmonte Farms, Inc. Danny Coa was the jockey.
Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer Jamie Ness extended his winning streak to four races over two days, winning the second race with 3-year-old filly Sugadadeze and the 10th with 6-year-old gelding Guam Typhoon. Ness also won with two of three starters at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.
In Saturday’s seventh race, an allowance/$75,000 optional claiming event for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs on the main track, Inaugural Stakes winner Angelofdistinction returned to form to earn a dead-heat victory with In the Beat, a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.
Angelofdistinction is owned by Brenda Tabraue and Andrea’s Farm and trained by Daniel Pita. The Florida-bred gelded son of With Distinction was ridden by Daniel Centeno.
In the Beat, whose broodmare sire is 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, is owned by Jim Tafel LLC and trained by Carl Nafzger. The jockey was Goncalves. The winners’ time was 1:24.17.
Including the dead-heat, seven of the 11 races on Saturday’s card were determined by a margin of a neck or shorter.
Live racing resumes Sunday with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. Sunday’s festivities include the always-popular Family Fiesta Day in the Backyard Picnic Area, hosted by Univision Television. Activities include free Latin entertainment, pony rides, games and an appearance by Mouse, the track’s beloved Miniature Horse mascot.
Tampa Bay Downs embarks on its spring schedule next week, with live racing on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (except Easter Sunday, April 8, and Wednesday, May 2) through the duration of the meeting.
The track is open every day except Easter Sunday for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.