Five years can seem like an eternity in horse racing.
But when owner-trainer Tim Padilla traveled to Purcell, Okla., early this year to pick up former stable star Merango Tango, it seemed like 2014 all over again, and he devised a plan to get him back to the races.
The 8-year-old gelding brought the heartfelt reunion to fruition in Friday's third race at Tampa Bay Downs, drawing off to win by four lengths in his first start since Sept. 17, 2014 at Remington Park in Oklahoma.
“He's always wanted to be a racehorse,” Padilla said. “I'm just happy for the horse to get him back doing what he loves.”
Ox Trot finished second and Jedi Temple was third. The victory, achieved with Dean Butler in the saddle, upped Merango Tango's career record to 3-for-3. His previous victories came in a maiden special weight contest and a conditional allowance, both at Remington going 6 furlongs.
“He just had some little problems, and then when he came back something else went wrong,” Padilla said of Merango Tango, who was purchased as a weanling for $80,000 by Alan Booge Racing. “As a 2-year-old he got his back leg caught under a fence and had to have surgery to have bone fragments removed.
“We gave him a year off and some other problems occurred, so the owner (the late Alan Booge) turned him out. When Mr. Booge died earlier this year, I decided to give him one more chance because I knew he wanted to be a good horse,” Padilla said.
Padilla and Booge had a close relationship, making the victory especially meaningful.
Merango Tango's time for the 5 ½ furlongs on a fast track was a swift 1:04.46. The Virginia-bred is a son of 1999 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid, out of the Red Ransom mare Ransom Dance. He paid $8 to win as the second betting choice in the seven-horse field.
Butler was visibly impressed by Merango Tango's effort, but not surprised. “I knew he'd win. I get on him every morning to gallop and work him, and everything he did was telling me he was ready and fit.
“He has a lot of 'back class.' When I gallop him he goes around there pretty nice and easy, and he's real kind to me,” Butler said. “He was just out there today having fun.”
Padilla, who re-acquired Merango Tango earlier this year, began working him out in May at Canterbury Park in Minnesota. He put him through four 4-furlong breezes at Tampa Bay Downs since Nov. 16, including a 4-furlong move from the starting gate in 49 3/5 seconds on Nov. 23, to prepare for today's race.
According to Tampa Bay Downs Association Steward Dennis Lima, Merango Tango fulfilled all of the track's requirements to be eligible to compete after such a lengthy layoff. Any horse that has not raced in the previous 24 months must have two officially recorded workouts, with at least one being 4 furlongs from the starting gate in 52 seconds or better, and be approved by the starter.
Further, the gate work must be observed and approved by an Association Veterinarian, with blood drawn after the gate workout at the owner or trainer's expense and tested and cleared by the testing laboratory, before the horse is allowed to enter or start.
Padilla risked having Merango Tango claimed for the relatively low price of $8,000; that bargain just left the station.
“I figured after a 5-year layoff, someone would have to be pretty strong in the game to want him,” Padilla said. “He just had too much class for these horses, and he ran fast and he ran good.
“Now that he has this race underneath him, we'll point for something different.”
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