Suddenly – much too soon for Thoroughbred racing fans up and down Florida’s west coast – only six racing days remain in the 2011-12 season, the 86th at the track. It is time again for trainers and jockeys to start packing, call the van companies and head to their next destination.
Goncalves and Homeister posted enviable records at Tampa Bay Downs this season. With 88 victories, Goncalves is a lock to earn his first title at Oldsmar when the meeting concludes May 6. Homeister, with 52 victories, is in fourth place in the standings.
But they can’t miss Tampa Bay Downs more than leading trainer Jamie Ness, whose dominance has been noted by fans and commentators across the country. Ness has sent out a track-record 75 winners locally, eclipsing the record of 68 he set four years ago.
Ness has clinched his sixth consecutive training title at the track. He tied for the top spot last season with Gerald Bennett and in 2009-10 with Kathleen O’Connell.
“We’ve had a great meet, and we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Ness said Wednesday. “It stinks that Tampa Bay Downs is closing, because Tampa is my home and we like being here, but this is the lifestyle we have. We’ll try to pick up right where we left off going into the summer.”
Ness, who trains for Richard Papiese’s Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc. (the 2011 Eclipse Award runner-up in the Outstanding Owner category) will stable the majority of his horses at Delaware Park this summer. He also plans to race at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., and Penn National and keep a few at Bowie in Maryland.
Here is a look at where the other top Tampa Bay Downs trainers plan to compete this summer, with their current number of winners at the meeting in parentheses:
Jorge Navarro (29): Navarro, whose winning percentage is second only to Ness, will compete against him at Delaware.
Gerald Bennett (28): He will be stabled at Presque Isle Downs, ship in to Arlington and Hollywood Casino at Charles Town and keep some at Thistledown in Cleveland.
Jane Cibelli (24): She looks to defend her title from last year at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, where she won 32 to beat out the likes of Todd Pletcher and Edward Plesa, Jr.
Bernell Rhone (23): A return to Canterbury Park in Minnesota, where he has finished second the past three seasons. He also plans to compete in the fall at Remington Park in Oklahoma.
Kathleen O’Connell (22): The trainer of 2011 Grade II Tampa Bay Derby winner Watch Me Go will compete at Calder in Miami and Colonial in Virginia.
Leigh Delacour (22): She and husband Arnaud Delacour will keep their horses at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, enabling them to ship to a variety of mid-Atlantic and Northeast tracks.
Thomas Proctor (16): The far-flung operation, which includes several graded-stakes quality runners, will have horses stabled at Churchill Downs, Arlington and Hollywood Park in California.
Joan Scott (16): Scott left early for Keeneland and will be competing in the Midwest.
Lynne Scace (15): The trainer of popular filly It’s Me Mom, who set the six-furlong track record in the Florida Cup Hilton Garden Inn Sprint, plans to go to Suffolk in East Boston.
Dennis Ward (15): He has stalls at Monmouth in New Jersey and is also considering keeping some horses at Calder.
Anthony Pecoraro (14): He plans to stable his upper-echelon horses at Monmouth and the others at Delaware Park, while racing throughout the Northeast.
Among other prominent Tampa Bay Downs trainers, Greg Griffith and Peter Wasiluk are headed to Delaware Park; Robert G. Smith will be at Calder; William Downing is headed to Suffolk; Miguel Feliciano will be at Thistledown outside Cleveland; Lori Smock will ship to Indiana Downs, Presque Isle, Penn National and PARX in Philadelphia from her base in Kentucky; and Mark Passley will be at Calder in Miami.
Here is a look at the Tampa Bay Downs jockeys who will soon be moving their tack to other locales:
Ronnie Allen, Jr. (68): The four-time Tampa Bay Downs riding champion moves to Presque Isle Downs, where he will be joined by his brother, Mike Allen.
Angel Serpa (67): The only locally-based rider to win a graded stakes, aboard Roman Tiger in the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes, the 24-year-old Serpa is headed to Monmouth Park in New Jersey.
Pablo Morales (48): The 23-year-old Morales looks to continue his career ascent at Presque Isle Downs, where he tied Huber Villa-Gomez for last year’s title with 97 victories.
Danny Coa (38): Delaware Park is the next stop for Coa, who was aboard Action Andy when he set the 6 ½-furlong track record last month.
Scott Spieth (36): After earning career victory No. 4,000 at Tampa Bay Downs, Spieth is one of numerous jockeys heading to Presque Isle.
Huber Villa-Gomez (36): The native of Peru, who lives in Tampa, looks to repeat last year’s success at Presque Isle.
Daniel Centeno (31): The hottest jockey at the track since moving back to Tampa after riding at Gulfstream Park, this four-time Tampa Bay Downs track champion is headed to Delaware Park.
Mark Guidry (29): The Louisiana native, who has more than 5,000 victories, is competing at Keeneland.
Ricardo Feliciano (25): After finishing in the top eight at Delaware Park last season, he is heading to Presque Isle Downs.
Dean Butler (25): He is returning to Canterbury Park in Minnesota, where he has finished atop the standings in victories each of the past three seasons.
Erik Barbaran (21): The track’s leading apprentice jockey, only 20, is headed to Suffolk in Massachusetts.
Willie Martinez (18): Martinez, who appears to have landed a Kentucky Derby mount in Trinniberg, is headed to Presque Isle.
Among other leading Tampa Bay Downs riders, Pedro Cotto, Jr. is headed to Monmouth; Fernando De La Cruz is already competing at Indiana Downs; Luis Gonzalez will be returning to Thistledown; Jorge Vargas is going to Suffolk; and Luis Garcia is currently at Pimlico in Baltimore.
Jesse Garcia said he is leaning toward moving his tack to Suffolk.