Edited Tampa Staff Release — For much of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, winning jockey Paco Lopez felt like he was living a dream.
Lopez’s instructions from trainer Jose Francisco D’Angelo were to try to break well from the No. 5 post and sit in a stalking position early in the mile-and-a-sixteenth race. But as 3-year-old Thoroughbreds often do, No More Time took matters into his own hooves and surged to the lead from the outset, with Lopez happy to go along for the ride.
Despite running a 4-furlong split of 46.61 seconds and a 6-furlong time of 1:10.81 that were faster than both men wanted, the Iowa-bred son of Not This Time-Baroness Juliette, by Speightstown, had the vigor to turn back a serious challenge from longshot West Saratoga at the top of the stretch, then hold off Agate Road for a 1 ¼-length victory.
West Saratoga held on for third, with Elysian Meadows fourth in the 12-horse field. Both Everdoit, who swerved into the gate at the start, and jockey Huber Villa-Gomez, who was unseated, were pronounced fine after the race.
No More Time, who won for the second time in four starts, completed the distance in 1:43.26, .82 seconds off Flameaway’s 2018 stakes record. The winner picked up 20 points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” toward earning a spot in the May 4 Run for the Roses starting gate at Churchill Downs.
No More Time paid $8.60 to win as the betting favorite despite being 10-1 on the morning line.
To Lopez and D’Angelo, the race couldn’t have unfolded any better.
“(D’Angelo) told me to put on the brakes out of the gate and sit third or fourth, but my horse broke unbelievable and I let him go,” Lopez said. “The pace was a little faster than I wanted, but his first and second quarters were very natural. I had plenty of horse the whole way and when I asked him, he gave me everything.”
An apparent dearth of early speed in the race led D’Angelo to try to have No More Time lay second, third or fourth early, but he was not overly concerned when the horse went to the lead on his own. D’Angelo said a 5-furlong breeze in 1:00 on Feb. 3 at Palm Meadows Training Center set him up perfectly for such an effort.
“That was a monster move,” D’Angelo said. “He took the lead with no problem today. I said before the race we wanted a good start and we’ll see what happens, but (No More Time) did it on his own.”
The conditioner is hopeful of returning to Oldsmar for the Grade III, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 9. “We will make the right decision for the horse, not for us,” D’Angelo said. “But if everything is in good order we’ll probably come back because he likes it here.”
Randy Hartley and Dean DeRenzo purchased No More Time for $40,000 as a yearling and are partners in the colt with Morplay Racing, the father-son team of Orlando resident Rich Mendez and his son Josh. “We decided to keep him instead of selling him, and it’s an amazing feeling to win this race,” Rich Mendez said.
“I spoke to Paco after the race and he said the horse was just playing with them. After his last race (fifth in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes on Jan. 1 at Gulfstream), when he fell about 10 lengths back and still came back and tried to compete, we really felt good about him. He has so much heart.”
Lopez also won the 11th and final race on the turf on Embrace Me, a 4-year-old filly owned by Mark T. Anderson and trained by Tom Albertrani, to sweep the late daily double.
The Sam F. Davis was one of four stakes on a Festival Preview Day 44 card that drew 4,731 spectators.
Power Squeeze pulled off a mild surprise in the 44th running of the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, accelerating through an opening along the rail in the stretch and powering on to a 2 ¾-length victory from Whocouldaskformo. America’s Vow held on well for third.
The 2-5 wagering favorite, Life Talk, failed to deliver an expected kick, with jockey Jose Ortiz wrapping up on her through the stretch as she faded to last in the six-horse field.
Power Squeeze’s victory was her third in a row for owner Bill and Paula Cosgrove’s Lea Farms and trainer Jorge Delgado. Daniel Centeno rode the winner, who completed the mile-and-40-yard distance in 1:40.22, .92 seconds off the stakes record set by Nest in 2022. Power Squeeze paid $8 to win.
Six-time leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Daniel Centeno rode the winner, a daughter of Union Rags out of the Awesome Again mare Callmethesqueeze.
“It was unbelievable,” said Delgado, who has won back-to-back stakes with Power Squeeze. “As a child, I loved Uncle Mo and always dreamed of competing against (Life Talk’s trainer) Todd Pletcher and (her owner) Mike Repole, but I had no clue I was going to bring horses to win races like this against them.
“You saw why I picked Daniel for this race. We have a lot of confidence in each other, and I wish he could get better chances in races like this,” Delgado said.
Centeno said his moment of decision came when he considered taking Power Squeeze, who raced alertly throughout, to the outside approaching the turn for home, then changed course. “Jose (Ortiz, on Life Talk) tried to ride his horse a little, and she wasn’t really responsive,” Centeno said. “I tried to go outside but I couldn’t get there, so I went to the rail and it opened up and my horse saw the daylight.
“I’m thankful to Jorge and the owners for the opportunity to ride her.”
Ortiz offered no excuses for Life Talk’s disappointing performance. “We had a perfect trip, she was in the clear and she didn’t fire,” he said.
Whocouldaskformo and jockey Tyler Gaffalione were forced to check heading into the first turn and launched their bid too late, although they grabbed second by a head from America’s Vow.
“She ran well despite the troubled trip,” said trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III. “She stepped up nicely. I don’t know what was going on down there on the backside. She then went from the rail to the outside, which didn’t help. I am pleased with her race.”
To the majority of spectators cheering themselves hoarse during the stretch run of the $100,000, 6-furlong Pelican Stakes, 12-1 shot Mish and jockey Samy Camacho appeared as if they might hold off the late charge of the race’s 2023 winner, Sibelius.
But Sibelius’s trainer and jockey, Jerry O’Dwyer and Junior Alvarado, had a different perspective.
“I knew he (Sibelius) was coming and coming and coming, but you’re just hoping he’s going to come in time,” said O’Dwyer, clearly spent by the exciting finish. “Mish ran a great race, but our horse fought it out really well. He got pushed out and had to go four or five-wide around the turn, but he was tenacious and gritty and dug right in.”
The 6-year-old gelding Sibelius is the sixth horse to capture back-to-back runnings of the Pelican (Above the Wind won three consecutive Pelicans from 2003-2006). The winner’s time of 1:08.90 for the 6-furlong distance lowered the stakes record of 1:09.14 set in 2013 by Action Andy and was .23 seconds off It’s Me Mom’s track record.
Last year’s Pelican victory earned Sibelius and his connections, including owners Jun H. Park and Delia Nash, a trip to Dubai for the Dubai Golden Shaheen, which they won. O’Dwyer said it is “100 percent” he will go back to defend next month if he comes out of this race well.
Alvarado, who also rode the son of Not This Time-Fiery Pulpit, by Pulpit, in last year’s Pelican, managed to stay cool during blazing early fractions set by Doctor Oscar and Super Ocho and after Mish took over at the top of the stretch.
“I was very trusting in my horse,” Alvarado said. “I didn’t have a great post position (No. 6 in the seven-horse field), so I just kind of went with him and kept inching up little by little.
“When I turned for home, I thought I had a good target (Mish) and when my horse was ready to go I asked him and he came through for me. The other horse put up a good fight, but I always knew that I had him.”
Camacho, who won an allowance/optional claiming race on Mish here on Dec. 22, and Mish’s trainer Saffie A. Joseph, Jr., were proud of their 7-year-old Florida-bred gelding’s effort.
“It was an amazing race,” Camacho said. “My horse kept trying and I thought he had it won, but (Sibelius) is a pretty good horse too.”
“He (Mish) ran big,” said Joseph. “Samy gave him a great trip. He just got run down late. He was beaten by the Dubai Golden Shaheen winner and he beat (third-place finisher) Nakatomi, the horse who was third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. I’m proud of him.”
Sibelius paid $6.80 to win as the second wagering choice behind Nakatomi.
In the $50,000 Minaret Stakes for older fillies and mares, both Tyler Gaffalione aboard 5-year-old Chi Town Lady and Junior Alvarado on Unifying had the same idea: to reel in the leaders late and claim victory.
Chi Town Lady, whose previous victory came in August of 2022 at Saratoga in the Grade I Test Stakes, had the biggest closing kick, edging Unifying by a neck in stakes-record time of 1:09.29 for the 6-furlong distance. That bettered Spanish Concert’s 2017 winning time of 1:09.63.
The victory was the fourth in 11 starts for Chi Town Lady, a daughter of Verrazano out of the Harlan’s Holiday mare Toni’s Hollyday. She is owned by Castleton Lyons, who bred her in partnership with Kilboy Estate and Gavin Tierney, and trained by Wesley Ward.
Chi Town Lady paid $8 to win as the second wagering choice behind Dream Concert.
“I wasn’t concerned with her breaking slowly from the gate,” Ward said via telephone. “She’s kind of a tiger in the gate and she always comes away slow. We started to learn that about her and now we let her just fall away from there and not rush her. She comes with a flourish.
“Unfortunately she was set up for a big year last year but then she had a minor tibia fracture in behind. That hindered her summer and fall chances so we just gave her time. The owner is keen to go on with her and wanted to see what she did here to see if this race was something where we could move forward and race her because she’s so lightly raced. Today she ran a beautiful race. She’s a beautiful filly and we’re very excited,” Ward said.
“We’re very happy with her,” said Louis Dubois, Ward’s on-site assistant. “She has been training well and we hope the next step will be the Grade I Madison at Keenland” (on April 6).
Third-place finisher Dream Concert took the lead at the 1/8-mile pole from pace-setter Lady Radler, but Gaffalione and Alvarado had their finishes well-timed. “That was the idea – just let her settle early, because she has a tremendous kick and we sort of relied on that,” Gaffalione said. “As soon as she got in the clear, she gave me a good surge and she was doing it well to the wire.”
Lady Radler held on well for fourth.
Gaffalione also won the third race on The Dove Rules, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Lawson Racing Stables and trained by Maria Bowersock, and the ninth on the turf in a dead-heat on Oversubscribed, a 3-year-old filly owned by Klaravich Stables and trained by Chad Brown.
Around the oval. Todd Pletcher’s 3-year-old colt Heartened turned in a strong effort in the second race, drawing away through the stretch under jockey Jose Ortiz to post a 4 ½-length victory from Salacious. The winner’s time of 1:39.91 for the mile-and-40-yard distance was 1.05 seconds off the track record.
Heartened, who like No More Time and most of the Sam F. Davis runners is a Triple Crown nominee, won for the first time in four career starts. The son of Street Boss out of the Bernardini mare Rare Find is owned by St. Elias Stable, Ken Langone, C. Steven Duncker and Vicarage Stable.
Ortiz rode three winners. In addition to his victory on Heartened, he won the fourth race on the turf on Castagno, a 7-year-old gelding owned by Bruno Schickedanz and trained by Jose Francisco D’Angelo, and added the ninth on the turf on 3-year-old filly Belle of Rights, who dead-heated with Oversubscribed in the ninth race on the turf.
Belle of Rights is owned by Emory A. Hamilton and trained by Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III.
Angel Arroyo, the Boot Barn Jockey of the Month, continued his winning ways by making two trips to the winner’s circle. He won the first race on Charlie Lightning, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Mark Fletcher Taylor and trained by Rohan Crichton. Arroyo added the sixth, the Lambholm South Race of the Week on the turf, with Destiny Star, a 3-year-old filly owned by Tim Hamm and Siena Farm and trained by Hamm.