a weekend in Tampa Bay

Of course, the one weekend when this winter in Chicago finally felt like winter, I had flown south.  It was for good reason, though, despite my preference for the cold.  I visited Tampa Bay from Thursday, February 11 through Sunday, February 14, and spent most of my waking hours at Tampa Bay Downs.  The main event was Lovely Loyree’s graded stakes debut in the Endeavour.  But, from start to finish, it was a great chance to see friends, see horses, and enjoy a track I had never visited.

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Lovely Loyree puts her game face on before the Endeavour Stakes.

Thursday, my first day in Tampa, was rather quiet.  It was a dark day at the track, so I spent a bit of time getting settled in at my hotel.  Still, the lure of the track was too strong, even on a dark day, so I spent the afternoon there watching simulcast and writing.

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Tampa Bay Downs is still pretty bright on a dark day.

The next morning, I got to the track early for morning workouts.

My Mertie gets ready for her gallop.
My Mertie gets ready for her gallop.

In addition to morning workouts, the mornings also involved lots of hanging out in the barn with Michele, Margaret, and the horses.

Devil's Rose will stop munching on her hay if she thinks there may be mints in it for her.
Devil’s Rose will stop munching on her hay if she thinks there may be mints in it for her.

Then, it was off to the races.

A closer look at the starting gate.
A closer look at the starting gate.
Polo Art, the first winner during my trip to Tampa Bay Downs.
Polo Art, the first winner during my trip to Tampa Bay Downs.
She's Annie's Girl was the only Curlin baby to race at Tampa Bay Downs while I was there. She finished 5th in a $25,000 maiden claimer, first time claiming and first time turf.
She’s Annie’s Girl was the only Curlin baby to race at Tampa Bay Downs while I was there. She finished 5th in a $25,000 maiden claimer, first time claiming and first time turf.
In the same race as She's Annie's Girl, Hidden Pond also ran. She is a four-year-old half-sister to another stallion I love: Fort Prado.
In the same race as She’s Annie’s Girl, Hidden Pond also ran. She is a four-year-old half-sister to another stallion I love: Fort Prado.
Winnie Bay Go won her race by open lengths at 25/1. Someone else saw what the bettors didn't, though: she got claimed out of the race.
Winnie Bay Go won her race by open lengths at 25/1. Someone else saw what the bettors didn’t, though: she got claimed out of the race.
Liar's Smoker, owned and bred by Chicago locals Meadow Lane Stable, heads out to the track.
Liar’s Smoker, owned and bred by Chicago locals Meadow Lane Stable, heads out to the track.
Liar's Smoker, deservedly self-satisfied after notching her second win of the Tampa meet.
Liar’s Smoker, deservedly self-satisfied after notching her second win of the Tampa meet.
Another bit of home in Tampa, with Illinois-breds Brewmistress (left) and Silver Liner. Brewmistress won their race.
Another bit of home in Tampa, with Illinois-breds Brewmistress (left) and Silver Liner. Brewmistress won their race.

The next day was Saturday: the big day, Endeavour day, Lovely Loyree’s graded stakes debut.  Loyree was full of energy, and knew it was race day, but was her usual self with regards to begging for mints and pets.

Lovely Loyree's "try me, Tepin!" face.
Lovely Loyree’s “try me, Tepin!” face.

Of course, we did not forget about her stablemates Saturday morning, either.

Nate the Natural, being curious.
Nate the Natural, being curious.
Few horses love attention as much as Jennifer J. does.
Few horses love attention as much as Jennifer J. does.
Broadway Brett is a Very Serious Horse.
Broadway Brett is a Very Serious Horse.
Illusive Fugitive has one of the cutest noses in horse racing.
Illusive Fugitive has one of the cutest noses in horse racing.

Although not a stakes race, one of the earlier races on the card was a solid prep handicap for the Challenger Stakes later in the meet.  I was excited to finally see the pale grey Mr. Jordan in person, as he was someone I had been fawning over for a long time.

Mr. Jordan only finished third -- but I could have looked at him all day.
Mr. Jordan only finished third — but I could have looked at him all day.
When all was said and done, though, it was Ghost Hunter who got to the wire first.
When all was said and done, though, it was Ghost Hunter who got to the wire first.

The first stakes race of the day was the Sam F. Davis (GIII): the local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby.

I picked Rafting, and that had nothing to do with his face. However, his blaze and his nose were winners.
I picked Rafting, and that had nothing to do with his face. However, his blaze and his nose were winners.
However, Destin (3) was able to outfinish Rafting in the Sam F. Davis. Destin's favoured stablemate, Gettysburg (2), was a well-beaten fifth.
However, Destin (3) was able to outfinish Rafting in the Sam F. Davis. Destin’s favoured stablemate, Gettysburg (2), was a well-beaten fifth.

Before the stakes races resumed, one of Michele’s horses ran in an allowance.  Penelope Perfect was in a bit of a tough spot, but she (and her epic forelock) did the best she could.

Penelope Perfect, on her toes.
Penelope Perfect, on her toes.

Soon, it was time for the Endeavour.  So many eyes were on Tepin, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile winner.  But…for me, it was Lovely Loyree time.  I was thrilled to see her get a chance against tougher company, and hoped she would make good account of herself.

Lovely Loyree was all business entering the paddock.
Lovely Loyree was all business entering the paddock.
Tepin strolls confidently into the Tampa Bay Downs paddock.
Tepin strolls confidently into the Tampa Bay Downs paddock.
Lady Lara enters the paddock.
Lady Lara enters the paddock.
2014 Queen's Plate winner Lexie Lou has the cutest little face.
2014 Queen’s Plate winner Lexie Lou has the cutest little face.

After striking the front and setting a measured pace, Lovely Loyree dug in gamely when the rest of the field ran at her. Tepin won by daylight, and Lady Lara got past her half a length, but Loyree held third as the longest shot on the board.

Loyree had every reason to hold her head high.  After striking the front and setting a measured pace, she dug in gamely when the rest of the field ran at her.  Tepin won by daylight, and Lady Lara got past her half a length, but Loyree held third as the longest shot on the board.
Loyree had every reason to hold her head high.

Of course, I was too busy celebrating Loyree’s third-place finish in the Endeavour that I did not get any pictures of the runners in the next race, the Suncoast.  Fortunately, my celebration of the Endeavour did not stop me from betting that race: my top two choices, 13/1 Weep No More and 10/1 Valueable Charmer, finished 1-2.  The Suncoast has thus cemented itself as one of my favourite races of the year, since last year I was all over Include Betty at 19/1.

Reload, my pick in the Tampa Bay Stakes, looked so classy in the post parade.  Take the Stand made him work for it, but Reload won the race.
Reload, my pick in the Tampa Bay Stakes, looked so classy in the post parade. Take the Stand made him work for it, but Reload won the race.
Spark Kit was in tough in the Tampa Bay Stakes, and finished last.  However, it was nice to see another familiar face from last year in Chicago.
Spark Kit was in tough in the Tampa Bay Stakes, and finished last. However, it was nice to see another familiar face from last year in Chicago.
Illinois-bred Sandia Crest was quite proud of himself after winning the 11th race on Saturday.  Culpa completed the Illinois-bred exacta.
Sandia Crest was quite proud of himself after winning the 11th race on Saturday. Culpa completed the Illinois-bred exacta.

Sunday morning, I returned to the barn bright and early.

Jennifer J. stretches her legs at sunrise.
Jennifer J. stretches her legs at sunrise.

Lovely Loyree came out of her race well, and was quite full of herself the next morning.

Lovely Loyree makes sure we brought her some peppermints.
Lovely Loyree makes sure we brought her some peppermints.

Penelope Perfect also came out of her race well — and, for once, would actually let me take pictures of her.

Penelope Perfect's forelock is, well, perfect.
Penelope Perfect’s forelock is, well, perfect.
No mints for Peso since he was in Sunday afternoon, but the barn pet was noshing on hay like a champ.
No mints for Peso since he was in Sunday afternoon, but the barn pet was noshing on hay like a champ.
It will always both amuse and perplex me that Mayor Byrne Rocks (barn name Janie, of course) is Kentucky-bred and not Illinois-bred.
It will always both amuse and perplex me that Mayor Byrne Rocks (barn name Janie, of course) is Kentucky-bred and not Illinois-bred.

In addition to racehorses — on Sunday, I finally met Mouse, the pony mascot of Tampa Bay Downs.  I had heard from a reliable source that she liked snow cones, although it turned out that her snow cone eating phase had passed her by.  She was still adorable, though.

Mouse was decked out for Valentine's Day.
Mouse was decked out for Valentine’s Day.

Of course, there were Thoroughbreds as well as ponies at Tampa Bay Downs on Sunday.

I came to the paddock to take pictures of Katie the Cutie, a Afleet Express half-sister to Wind Racer.
I came to the paddock to take pictures of Katie the Cutie, a Afleet Express half-sister to Wind Racer.
Katie the Cutie decided to run the turf course on her own, though, and had to be scratched from the actual race.
Katie the Cutie decided to run the turf course on her own, though, and had to be scratched from the actual race.

Michele had one horse running on Sunday: Peso.  Though he finished fifth, he was beaten just three lengths, and should be sharper second time off his layoff.

Peso was focused on the task at hand.  Though he finished fifth, he was beaten just three lengths, and should be sharper second time off his layoff.
Peso was focused on the task at hand.

Finally, my visit to Tampa Bay Downs had to come to an end.

In Sunday's finale, By a Hundredth raced for the first time in a year.  He did not win, but his nose was a winner.
In Sunday’s finale, By a Hundredth raced for the first time in a year. He did not win, but his nose was a winner.
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All For Us, the final winner of my Tampa trip, carries the Glen Hill silks into the winners’ circle.

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