The uncoupled entry from the Bennett barn is headed by 4-year-old Gibson, a Florida-bred son of Gibson County owned by Sundance Thoroughbreds. Ronnie Allen, Jr. has the riding assignment. The confirmed front-runner Gibson won his previous start at Tampa Bay Downs on the grass, following his 6 ½-length score Nov. 12 in the $125,000 Jack Dudley Sprint Handicap at Calder at odds of 34-1.
Other serious contenders include the top three finishers in the Dec. 14 Pelican Prep: winner Quiz Whiz, Action Andy and Good Lord. Quiz Whiz, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Ups and Downs Racing and trained by Monte Thomas, will again be ridden by Jose E. Lopez. His winning time in the Pelican Prep was a speedy 1:09.85.
Rounding out the field are Tommy’s Memory, winner two years ago of the Florida Cup Hilton Garden Inn Sprint Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs; It’s Never to Late, a 7-year-old who won six of his nine starts in 2011; and Why Pretend and Gold Strike Begins, both victorious in their first starts at the current meeting.
The Pelican has a rich history since its inception in 1983. Not Surprising won the Pelican in 1994 and 1995 for local owner Robert Van Worp, with his son Judson Van Worp as the trainer. Not Surprising used his second Pelican victory as a springboard to claiming the Eclipse Award as the nation’s top sprinter.
Jockey Federico Mata won four consecutive runnings of the Pelican from 2002-06, the last three on Above the Wind for owner Hamco Group and trainer Ronnie Allen, Sr.
Trainers Curtis Garrison and Jorge Navarro won two races apiece on Wednesday’s card. Garrison’s victories came on the turf, with 5-year-old mare Glory Park winning the sixth race and 5-year-old horse True Strike breaking his maiden in the eighth. Navarro won the seventh with 3-year-old gelding Howelling Wind and the ninth with 4-year-old gelding Wildcat Formation. Apprentice jockey Camila Marcela Soto of Chile won her first race in the United States on Windy Café in the 10th.
Live racing resumes Friday through Sunday, with live cards next week on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday before Tampa Bay Downs enters its regular Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule. The track is open each day for simulcasting, no-limits poker in the Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.