Michael Trombetta, the trainer of 3-year-old colt Win Win Win, had a helpless feeling after Gladiator King broke through the gate as the field for the $125,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downswas being loaded, delaying the start.
But a horse with the kind of talent Win Win Win displayed in setting a 7-furlong track record has a way of making his connections feel like they're just along for the ride, anyway.
After breaking slowly from the No. 2 post, Win Win Win was taken in hand for the first part of the race before jockey Julian Pimentel launched his bid from the outside at the ¼-mile pole. Win Win Win surged past Gladiator King and Overdeliver, speeding to a seven-and-a-quarter length victory in track and stakes-record time of 1:20.89.
Overdeliver finished second, followed by Cave Run and War Bridle, who was racing for the track's fantasy-based “Tampa Bay Owners Club.” Jackson and Zenden were late scratches.
It was a record-setting Skyway Festival Day at Tampa Bay Downs, where 3-year-old filly Molto Bella set a stakes record of 1:22.20 in winning the $125,000, 7-furlong Gasparilla Stakes and 5-year-old mare Tapa Tapa Tapa established a new stakes standard of 1:43.27 in the $50,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Wayward Lass (more on those races soon).
Bred in Florida by Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Stud and owned by her Live Oak Plantation, Win Win Win improved to 3-for-4, and Trombetta's coy reply of “maybe” when asked if the horse would be nominated to the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes here on Feb. 9 had a definitive air to it.
“We've always liked this guy, and we're very happy with him,” Trombetta said. “They left the two inside horses in there while they were chasing the loose horse, and I think he might have fallen asleep in there. He broke flat-footed, but Julian knows him really well. He had a nice little pace to run at (22.10 for the first quarter-mile and 44.52 for the half) and he showed what he can do.”
Despite being forced to go wide on the turn, Win Win Win left his four rivals behind in a few quick, powerful strides in the 20th edition of the Pasco.
“I didn't panic (at the start) because he did the same thing last time,” Pimentel said of Win Win Win's awkward start in a runner-up effort in the Heft Stakes at Laurel on Dec. 29. “He's very quick, so I just took my time and let him do his thing.
“I had so much horse and when I asked him to run, he took off.”
The winner's share of $56,000 boosted Win Win Win's earnings to $127,300. The son of Hat Trick-Miss Smarty Pants, by Smarty Jones, broke the stakes and track mark set in 2015 by subsequent Grade II winner Catalina Red as a 2-year-old (the Pasco was run that season on Dec. 27, 2014).
El Grande Rojo had equaled the track mark the following year as a 7-year-old gelding.
After Molto Bella raced virtually had-and-head with Warm during the early stages in swift fractions of 22.61 seconds for the ¼-mile and 45.12 for the half, it seemed unrealistic for either to sustain that effort throughout the race.
Molto Bella had other ideas. The daughter of Violence, out of Dr. Zic – winner of the 2008 Sandpiper Stakes here and subsequently a Grade I winner – kept pushing her limits to record a six-and-a-half length victory from Into Trouble, with Another Time finishing third in the 10-horse field.
The winner's time of 1:22.20 broke the former mark of 1:22.41 set by Irish Jasper as a 2-year-old in December of 2014. Molto Bella is owned in partnership by the Six Column Stables of Brad Stephens, Randall L. Bloch, Robert T. Manfuso, Fred Merritt, John Seiler and Stephen Harner and trained by Ian Wilkes.
“She broke really good, and she was a little bit aggressive early,” said winning jockey Luca Panici. “I tried to relax her but that didn't work too well, so I let her go by herself and she responded really well. She is a very nice filly with a lot of class and a good brain.”
Molto Bella improved to 2-for-6, with two seconds. She finished fourth in her previous start, the Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct on Dec. 1.
Whether the mile-and-an-eighth Demoiselle was beyond her scope or she didn't like the track that day, Molto Bella gave indication in the 35th edition of the Gasparilla she is a sophomore to be reckoned with.
“Ian said he wanted to go back to one turn today and see where she takes us,” Bloch said. “We may be back for the Suncoast Stakes (on Feb. 9), but we'll let Ian make the call.”
Wilkes was at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, with Oldsmar assistant Cesar Morales filling in and excitedly talking to his boss a few minutes after the race.
“She shipped up from Palm Meadows (Training Center, in Boynton Beach) a few days ago, and I could see she handled this track pretty well,” Morales said. “I thought it was pretty amazing the way she kept going.”
Tapa Tapa Tapa, an easy winner of the 35th edition of the $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes, might be getting better with age. She rolled past pace-setter Almond Roca inside the 3/8-mile pole and powered home to a five-length victory from Puerto Rico star Pure Lemon in stakes-record time of 1:43.27 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance.
Her time bettered the mark set last year by Well Humored, who won the Wayward Lass in 1:43.86 while finishing ¾-length ahead of Tapa Tapa Tapa. Antonio Gallardo was the winning jockey.
Now 5-for-14 lifetime and 3-for-4 at Tampa Bay Downs, Tapa Tapa Tapa had finished third in her previous start, the Grade III Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream on Dec. 15. She is owned by the Beau Ravine, LLC concern of her breeder, Patricia Pavlish, and husband Ed Pavlish, who are from Cleveland and attended the race.
“She is kind of a growthy, stretchy, light-framed filly who has gotten better every year, which is why we've taken our time with her,” Hamm said. “We give her a break after every race trying to prolong her career and get her to hold her weight better. She has a lot of ability, and we just have to hold it together.”
The daughter of Tapit-Kickin' the Clouds, by Dixieland Band, who won the 2017 Suncoast Stakes here, has plenty of early speed, but Gallardo was content to keep her within tracking distance of Almond Roca until the far turn. After dispatching Almond Roca, herself a two-time stakes winner at Tampa Bay Downs, Tapa Tapa Tapa kept to her task and was never threatened.
Pure Lemon, who had won her previous five races at Hipodromo Camarero, finished a length-and-a-quarter ahead of Figarella's Queen, with Almond Roca fading to fourth.
“I knew (Almond Roca) has a lot of speed, but I didn't think she could make the distance,” Gallardo said. “My filly is doing awesome and she loves this track. I knew she was miles the best, so I rode her with a lot of confidence and when I asked her in the second part, she got to running.”
Hamm said Gallardo has been working Tapa Tapa Tapa in the mornings and established a strong rapport. Four of her last five workouts produced the fastest time for the distance, including a flat 1-minute breeze for 5 furlongs on Jan. 12.
“Tony did a great job. She was running with a loose rein, and he's been working her that way,” Hamm said. “She has really been responding well and relaxing, so when I saw the loose rein and a good horse inside us to clock, it looked like a good setup.”
Hamm said he intends to return Tapa Tapa Tapa to graded-stakes competition, where a victory would increase her value as a broodmare.
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