Although his is a relatively new face to most Tampa Bay Downs regulars, Michael Stidham first trained horses here in 1980 when his late father, George Stidham, sent him to Oldsmar with about 10 run-of-the-mill horses and specific instructions.
“He told me to go learn something and not bring any back with me – either get them claimed or sold,” Stidham recalled a while back.
The impact of that experience on his future success is hard to quantify, but Stidham might occasionally wonder why he didn't return to Tampa Bay Downs earlier than last season. For the second consecutive year, his barn got off to a blazing start that has resulted in his earning the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month Award.
Stidham, who won with six of his first 13 Tampa Bay Downs starters a year ago, started a slightly less torrid 7-for-17 this season after 5-year-old gelding Born for a Storm's victory in today's fourth race under jockey Jesus Castanon.
Stidham, who turned 61 Tuesday, is primarily based at Fair Grounds in New Orleans with his main assistant and life partner, Hilary Pridham. Ben Trask is in charge of the day-to-day operation at Tampa Bay Downs, but Stidham spent three days here earlier this month on a “working” vacation.
The old stompin' grounds remained pretty much as he left them last season.
“We love being at Tampa,” Stidham said. “The backside and the barn area are horse-friendly, with a lot of grass and dirt walking paths. And the track surfaces, both the dirt and the turf, are very kind and safe, which is a key factor.
“If your horses aren't staying sound, it doesn't matter how good they are, and one thing we've seen at Tampa is that the horses stay safe.”
Relatively safe, so far, is placing a wager on Stidham runners. With more than 1,900 career victories, including 39 graded-stakes triumphs, Stidham is a master at placing horses in the “right spots” – at tracks and in races where they're competitive – and the results speak loud and clear.
“We tried to hand-select horses this winter that would fit at Tampa and New Orleans to give them all the best chance at success. Plus, the tracks are close enough that we can ship horses between the tracks as needed.
“We have more and better horses at Tampa this year, including some very well-bred Godolphin-owned horses. We're very lucky to be in a position to get those kind,” he added.
Stidham, who has a career-best six graded-stakes victories in 2018 (four by Pin Oak Stable's 5-year-old Synchrony), is delighted at having Trask to run his Tampa Bay Downs operation. “He has been with us going on four years, and he is a hard-working, conscientious young guy who is going to go a long way in this business,” Stidham said.
“I think he is an up-and-coming top trainer, and I have a lot of confidence in him.”
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