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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL–I’m sure the HRI Faithful are tired of reading this but once again good racing was good business. And that makes perfect dollars and sense, too, because it happened again yesterday.

Thus we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that horseplayers responded by betting a little over $11 million at quaint Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday against the big boys, a total topping the previous Festival Preview Day record by over 16 percent.

Of greater significance, the Tampa Bay three-year-old program finally is being recognized as another viable proving grounds on the way to Louisville in May. What’s more, these “preps,” these “stepping-stones,” are more. They stand on their own merits.

When done sensibly, there’s plenty of room for everyone in this game. But then that’s the old sticky wicket isn’t it? “Sensibly.”

It’s fun for fans how all these incremental stops somehow weave into a tapestry of entertainment, growth, and good gambling. Like the Road to the Breeders’ Cup, spring stakes with a history, old and new, help renew the game.

Now if only the industry did more things that made sense. Coordinated post times? Anyone?

The Sam F. Davis has been one of our favorite races from the first time we ventured north to see this ungraded 1-1/16 miles in 2014, won by Vinceramos for the team of Todd Pletcher and Edgar Prado—parenthetically getting closer to Angel Cordero’s career standard of 7,057 every day.

“The Sammy,” as we call it—not unlike “The Bernie,” (Saratoga’s Bernard Baruch) is now a Grade 3 and has earned its rightful place spot as a sensible three-year-old-debut destination.

That has been so since Kentucky Derby-winning Street Sense took the 2007 edition, but things do take time. After all, it’s taken almost 224 years to turn a democratic republic into a lawless autocracy. But I digress…

Saturday’s second and third Sammy finishers, Independence Hall and Ajaaweed, both had their sophomore coming out parties and each acquitted himself well. The former was too fresh, stoutly restrained on top of a top pace—23.34 and 46.52 is rolling at Tampa and was beaten only 2-1/2 lengths.

And it took a final sixteenth in a rapid 06.11, a final five-sixteenths in an impressive 30.81, to do it. The final time of 1:42.60 was less than a tick off the stakes record.

Putting the “disappointing” effort of the odds-on favorite in context, the jury still out as to his ability to handle 1-1/4 miles in May. But this spirited, immature colt has much learning to do. He helped beat himself. Indeed, he could run out of time before he runs out of racetrack.

Ajaaweed also ran well. He was beaten a long way, 13-3/4 lengths, but Kairan McLaughlin got off to a slow start with him, giving him down time after his strong-finish Remsen placing in November.

Also, Ajaaweed had only five works coming into the race, three of the half-mile variety. It was a place to get started and it worked well. He came roaring home for third beneath Joel Rosario in a race, and chasing a pace, that was too fast for him first time out. (Rosario thinks blinkers might help).

If anyone underestimated Sole Volante going into Oldsmar, they won’t any longer. Certainly Dean Reeves and his people noticed what we saw from his very good show finish in the Mucho Macho Man behind a couple of talented horses, subsequently buying a controlling interest after that quickly run mile.

First, a little history. Trainer Patrick Biancone has been enjoying a bit of a resurgence. His work with Diamond Oops garnered national attention last year and there’s another common thread between these two horses as well.

Like Diamond Oops, Sole Volente had two turf preps before switching to dirt. But unlike Diamond Oops, Sole Volente won both his turf starts, the second win coming in the listed Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park. To see a legitimate dual threat in such a young horse is rare.

By now all have heard the story about how Sole Volente was a birthday present for Biancone daughter’s 22nd birthday. He told Andie that he would go up to $22,000 for a horse and was able to snap up this son of Karakontie for $20K.

Talk about bargains—and we’re sure the Reeves’ paid quite a premium to buy a controlling interest—it truly is a gift that kept on giving and, barring misfortune, will provide income stream in the future, which might include a return visit for the Tampa Bay Derby March 7.

Or, depending on the results of the Feb 29 Fountain of Youth, which will mark the return of Dennis’ Moment, among others, including the MMM exacta of Chance it and As Seen On TV, Sole Volente could await the Florida Derby March 28.

Wherever he shows up next, Solo Volente will be one of those horses with a bullseye on the back of his silks.

BETS ‘N PIECES: As stated, good racing, and it wasn’t limited to The Sammy. Unlike Independence Hall, Got Stormy was disappointing, appearing empty all the way around and finishing off the board. In retrospect, Jehozacat was a huge price, completing a stakes double [Lucrezia] for the Team of Arnaud Delacour and Daniel Centeno, a four-time winner Saturday…

 Wanderlust was an impressive maiden winner of his 6-1/2-furlong debut, which gave Reeves Thoroughbred Racing its first sophomore winner of the afternoon… Meanwhile, put Caribou Club in your stable mail. She will benefit from that spotty season’s debut…

Could Starship Jubilee be getting better with age because this year she’s been more than just a Horse for Course (17) 10-2-1 and turf specialist (33) 16-5-3? She’s been dominant, albeit well spotted. She was left alone on the lead and drew off handily to win the Sunshine Millions Turf. Saturday at Gulfstream, she took the G3 Suwannee River in even higher style, Luis Saez allowing the speed to go on with it before allowing her to unleash a strong turn of foot to draw off from six rivals. She’s ready for a deeper end of the pool. Good work from Kevin Attard…  

At the beginning of Santa Anita’s G2 Las Virgines, the speedy Venetian Harbor was looking like a speedy runoff in her two-turn debut. At the end, she looked like a top prospect for the Kentucky Oaks. By the time she straightened out on the backside, the Munnings bay and Flavien Prat were six in front.  Then, in an act of educational disdain, he took a hold, allowing the competition to catch up approaching headstretch, at which point Prat shook the reins and she was gone, stretching a length advantage into 9-1/4 at the end of a mile in 1.37.51, even surprising trainer Richard Baltas…

Saturday was Tampa, next Saturday it will be Laurel’s turn as they present their Winter Carnival of racing. There will be five noteworthy stakes among eight featured events next weekend. They will be previewed this week with video in the Laurel Park Live section on the HRI homepage…  Mandatory Empire Six Jackpot Payout at Aqueduct this afternoon.

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8 Responses

  1. It seems like this track ,once owned by the Steinbrenner family group, has improved since my days ‘residing’ in Tampa when i got there a couple of times off Dale Mabry when it seemed like Suffolk Downs South,[ not a compliment] . Congrats to time,improvements and fervent patronage even if a good % of which is represented by former ‘snow birds’ now residing in the area including St Pete.Pinellas Park,Clearwater etc. which is the opposite of what some ‘Yankee’ tracks have been going thru,,but will it ever replace them ?I think of Colonial Downs, Virginia`s new track when it opened yrs ago i thought that it would fold within a short while even if it offered mostly wonderful Turf races as its stands remained empty. “Changes”,,are beyond control , expectations,comments and first impressions as they ‘depend’ on so many local political decisions.Whatever fits the local interest$,flavor and financial status it will come afloat,even if not permanently. Who control$ changes? Ah,that`s the secrete question with a complex, labyrinthian answer ! Good Luck.Thanks for your time,space and aspirations .Addio !

  2. I was less impressed by Independence Hall. If you were going to make an instruction film on what constitutes a perfect trip, Independence Hall’s journey in the Sammy would be a good place to start.

    He sat two or three lengths off dueling leaders, who would wind up backing up and getting beat from Tampa to Ocala, and more than 10 lengths ahead of the rest of the pack.

    If there is a more ideal scenario, I can’t imagine what it is.

    He cruised to an easy lead–“on his own,” the track announcer opined–opened up, then couldn’t hold off Sole Volante, a deep closer on a track that was playing to speed all day. That deep closer could not menace Chance It and As Seen on TV in the Holy Bull a month ago.

    Independence Hall has as much chance to win the Derby as Tom Steyer does to be elected president.

  3. No one controls changes, of course, JG. But very happy Colonial Downs is back; that had a successful return and the plans for 2020 spell bigger and better, we’ll see…

  4. TJ,
    With respect to racer shape, you are absolutely correct. But pulling the rider out of the saddle for about 7 furlongs while being stoutly restrained doesn’t leave much in the tank.
    I was interested in the horse, never really buying into the hype and given the way I see races I thought some of the criticism leveled at him was a little obvious and not entirely fair. But that’s just me.
    And I don’t know how good the winner is, or can be. He’s very intriguing. I like this crop a lot. I think the lead-up to Derby going to be especially interesting this year. Just hope the picture stays in tact, of course it never does…
    I never thought of Steyer as Presidential material. But he has as good of a chance as any GOP Senator, save one, has to grow a pair.

  5. Bettors on Tampa races got the first three right, as the favorite won paying $3.80, $3.00, & $5.40 – $2.00 bets didn’t help at all, and if the bets were boxed the bankroll shrunk. From the 4th to the last race the favorite couldn’t get to the finish line first. Once again, the majority of horseplayers were wrong race after race.

    To cash all ya gotta do is go down to Gulfstream. Bet the Ortiz brothers, Paco, and Luis and enjoy some ‘house paid for’ beer and dogs.

    I keep reading the comment ‘good racing’. What’s good racing if one doesn’t cash?

  6. Sole Volente @$13.40. Can’t rain on my parade.

    But you’ve got it right.

    It’s not handicapping.

    It’s trainer and jockey racing anymore…

  7. Amy Klobuchar will surprise in Cow Hampshire primary on Tuesday. She is from MN and people out there are sometimes referred to as “Minnesota Nice.” Tulsi Gabbard would have been fun to see in debates w/Trumpty Dumpty as she is pretty tough. Unfortunately, she has as much chance as Tom Steyer to get the chance. Nadal was never in doubt. Rosario had it all the way. Still like Dennis’s Moment. Waiting in the wings to redeem.

  8. C, It’s true, Dennis has some big questions to answer and the Fountain of Youth will not be a layup with Chance It and As Seen On TV, and that’s just two I can think of. It’s going to be a beauty. Risen Star this Saturday, love this time of year…

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