OLDSMAR — Country music superstar Toby Keith was getting Kentucky Derby fever.
It was 2003, and his undefeated homebred, Cactus Ridge, had won four starts as a 2-year-old. The speedster led at each call in every race, capped by a record-setting performance in the Grade III $150,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity Stakes at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Ill.
The Breeders' Cup Juvenile, in which the winner often gains instant Kentucky Derby favorite status, was expected to be next for Cactus Ridge. But the colt bred at Keith's Dream Walkin' Farms in Pauls Valley, Okla., never made the trip to Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.
A week before the Breeders' Cup in a workout, Cactus Ridge suffered a knee injury that ended his racing career.
"That was one of Toby Keith's better horses," Tampa Bay Downs trainer Jamie Ness said.
Cactus Ridge is now a stallion in Wayne, Okla., and has sired 20 stakes champions. Cactus Son can make it 21 today in the $100,000 Turf Dash at Tampa Bay Downs. The 6-year-old gelding out of the Repriced mare Alex's Angle faces 10 rivals in Race 8 (3:55 p.m.). Fernando De La Cruz has the mount and starts from Post 10 in the 5-furlong test.
Ness, the Downs' seven-time training champion and current wins leader, claimed Cactus Son for $20,000 on Sept. 26 at Delaware Park in Wilmington for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds. In three starts under Ness, the Kentucky-bred has a pair of seconds and a win in his latest start, Feb. 7 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.
"He's fast, and he's really taken to our program," Ness said. "When I claimed him, (former trainer Kenny Smith and owner Marian Smith) were routing him, (and) he was running good. I just thought he was a turf sprinter, so we cut him back to sprinting, and he's thrown three big races for us. … They've all been close races. If he gets a good trip (today), I expect another close race."
Cactus Son has raced at 13 tracks in 10 states. He has seven victories from 39 career starts and earnings of $225,836, but he is 0-for-11 in stakes races.
Cactus Son became graded-stakes placed in 2012 with a third-place finish in the Grade III $150,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The Turf Dash is his first stakes start in his past eight races.
"He's a little long in the tooth right now," Ness said. "He was a previous stakes horse, and now I think we got him back into stakes caliber. Whether he'll be a stakes winner, I'm not sure."
DOGS: The $64,000 Sprint Classic final is tonight in Race 10 (10:11) at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg. The field from the rail: Kiowa Zabia (Pauline O'Donnell kennel), Husker Magic (Abernathy), Art Vandelay (McAllister), Stylistic (D'Arcy), Joey Ice (Capabal), Flying Dirt Road (Red Oak), Se's High Onlife (Red Oak) and Lk's Winamuca (Lashmet).