As trainer Jason Servis prepared to watch his 6-year-old horse Vision Perfect compete in Tampa Bay Downs' $100,000 Turf Dash via simulcast from Gulfstream Park, he thought about calling his assistant, Frank Malocsay, to try to relay new instructions to jockey Antonio Gallardo after the late scratch of speedster Pay Any Price.
Fortunately for Servis, Gallardo had already mapped out a new game plan in his mind for the 5-furlong event.
“As they were circling behind the starting gate waiting to reload, I was thinking, how can I get word to Antonio to change our strategy?” Servis said via telephone after Vision Perfect's front-running, length-and-a-half victory from Tricks to Doo in a time of 55.15 seconds, only .52 seconds off the stakes and course record.
“I'm glad Antonio was thinking the same way I was. He ran fast, he's a nice horse to be around and I told Antonio he would like him,” Servis said.
Vision Perfect, 7-for-32 lifetime with earnings of $717,784, is owned by the Mr. Amore Stable of Ron Lombardi.
In today's other $100,000 turf stakes, the Lightning City for fillies and mares, 3-year-old Florida-bred Miz Mayhem surged to the lead on the turn and continued bravely under jockey Edgard Zayas for a length-and-a-quarter victory from last season's Lightning City Stakes winner, Smiling Causeway.
Miz Mayhem's time of 55.37 seconds is a stakes record. She is a homebred racing for breeder-owner Laurie Plesa and trained by her husband, Edward Plesa, Jr.
As coincidence would have it, Laurie Plesa is Jason Servis' sister.
Zayas was feeling a lot better after the Lightning City than the Turf Dash. As the field was being loaded for the Turf Dash, his mount, Pay Any Price, broke through the gate and dumped Zayas, then took off at a lope down the backstretch.
Inside of Pay Any Price, Hollis also broke through the gate, although jockey Declan Cannon managed to stay aboard. When Pay Any Price avoided attempts to halt his playfulness by an outrider, the stewards had no option but to scratch him.
The subsequent 14-minute delay gave Gallardo time to commit to a front-running strategy, instead of “Plan A,” which was to stalk the expected quick pace of Pay Any Price.
“I decided to change everything and go to the lead, because I didn't want to get stuck behind other horses and get grass and dirt in my face,” Gallardo said. “I wanted the other horses to be rushing to come to me. I knew I could do what I wanted with (Vision Perfect) – make the lead, fight with other horses or come from off the pace. And I know Jason trusts me. That's why he put me on the horse.”
While Pay Any Price was the wagering favorite before being scratched, Vision Perfect had defeated him by four-and-three-quarter lengths in this year's Silks Run at Gulfstream. “I knew I was riding the class of the race,” Gallardo said of the Grade III winner.
Vision Perfect paid $3.20 as the wagering favorite. Tricks to Doo, last season's Inaugural Stakes winner at Tampa Bay Downs, finished a half-length ahead of 51-1 shot American Sailor, followed by Hollis.
Vision Perfect's previous race had been a 13th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs, won by Stormy Liberal. “He had some traffic problems that day and he just didn't run his race,” Servis said. “He was acting good after that and we didn't see (Stormy Liberal) or (runner-up) World of Trouble (last season's Pasco Stakes winner, which he also trains), so we decided to take a shot there.”
Both Zayas and the jockey on Hollis, Declan Cannon, said their mount reacted to the other horse in breaking through the gate.
“Pay Any Price can be a little anxious before a race, and he was a little riled up before the race,” Zayas said. “The other horse hit the gate and (Pay Any Price) thought it was time to go.”
“My horse was just a ball of energy, and he (Pay Any Price) set him off,” Cannon said. “(Hollis) hadn't run in a while and he was kind of stressed out.”
Zayas was beaming from ear-to-ear after Miz Mayhem's strong performance, her fourth stakes victory this year and seventh triumph in 15 starts. They trac ked early front-runners Dominance and Tarawa before taking control.
“She was feeling awesome before the race, and once she got in the clear she kicked on,” Zayas said. “I knew they would have to run very fast to beat her.”
Smiling Causeway never really threatened the winner while finishing a length-and-a-half ahead of Broadway Run, followed by 11-10 favorite Morticia.
Miz Mayhem paid a generous $19 to her backers.
Plesa had also trained Miz Mayhem's sire, Yesbyjimminy, a Grade III winner who won four consecutive stakes in 2008.
Miz Mayhem had finished eighth in her previous start, the Christiecat Stakes at Belmont in September, breaking a five-race winning streak. “That was a soggy, wet racetrack she did not like at all, and I just threw that race out,” Plesa said.
“(Zayas) did an excellent job today. She has a ton of speed but she has learned how to rate, and she was forced to rate today until it opened up for her and she went on. We've been pointing to this race for a while.”
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