Believe it or not, Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez had a few anxious moments during Triple Crown nominee Spinoff's 11 ¾-length victory in today's second race at Tampa Bay Downs.
“He passed the other horses and got to the ¼-mile pole, and then he started waiting. Then he saw the gate (at the top of the stretch, along the outside rail) and he went to pull up and I said 'Aargh, come on, pay attention,' ” Velazquez said.
“Once he passed the gate, the other horse (runner-up Cave Run) kind came to him a little bit and he went on again. So it was a good effort.”
It was the first start for the 3-year-old son of Grade I winner and 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun since a third-place finish in the Grade II Saratoga Special Stakes Presented by Miller Lite on Aug. 12, and also Spinoff's first race around two turns. His time for the mile-and-40-yard distance in the allowance/optional claiming event was 1:40.25, 1.18 seconds off the track record.
Making the race especially noteworthy is that it marks the third consecutive winter Spinoff's trainer, Todd Pletcher, has sent a relatively untested 3-year-old here for a mile-and-40-yard race with designs on establishing a foundation for stakes success.
Two years ago, Pletcher and Velazquez teamed to win a maiden special weight event with Always Dreaming on Jan. 25, and they went on to win the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby. Last year, Pletcher sent Magnum Moon to Oldsmar for an allowance/optional claiming victory on Feb. 15, and that runner went on to win the Grade II Rebel and the Grade I Arkansas Derby.
Watching from south Florida, Pletcher expressed his pleasure with the performance by Spinoff, who is out of Grade I winner Zaftig, herself by Gone West.
“It looked like he was still figuring things out coming down the lane and running a little green, but what was impressive was that he finished well and had something left in the tank,” said the conditioner, who said the six-month layoff resulted from “a little setback” after the Saratoga Special.
“This is a colt we've always had high hopes for, and we thought we had him fit enough to go two turns today and that it could benefit him for something bigger and better down the road. Tampa Bay Downs has worked well for us (as a starting point); it's a good, safe surface, and getting two-turn experience is very important looking ahead.”
2nd-race winner Spinoff & jockey John Velazquez after 11 3/4-length win; Todd Pletcher trains 3-year-old colt pic.twitter.com/KehaaTGv9J
— Tampa Bay Downs (@TampaBayDownsFL) February 22, 2019
Pletcher was unsure what's next for Spinoff, a homebred racing for owners Wertheimer and Frere. He did not rule out returning for the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 9, although that “probably would be bringing him back a little quicker than what's ideal.
“Whatever we do next, it probably will be in a graded stakes somewhere,” Pletcher added.
The Gerald Bennett-trained Mercusio led the five-horse field early, then jockey Samy Camacho tried to rein in his early speed that produced an opening quarter-mile of 22.68 seconds.
“I was trying to let (Mercusio) go, but he kind of slowed down around the first turn and got me in a little bit tight,” Velazquez said. “So I forced him to go a little bit faster and then on the backstretch, I took back and went around him just to be in a comfortable position with my horse, and after that it was pretty easy.
“He ran a pretty good race at Saratoga, but obviously he was much better today. He'll have to step up to the next level next time, but he shows a lot of talent and hopefully he can move forward from here. He's done everything well for coming off the long layoff.”
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