Kathleen O'Connell kept the proverbial harness fastened for one of the most adventurous rides of her life.
She experienced the highs of three stakes victories and four wins overall, and the lows of seeing a horse run loose on the track, another one break through the starting gate, and two jockeys get unseated.
"It was like a roller coaster … just everything that happened the whole day," O'Connell said.
O'Connell won't forget Aug. 24 at Calder Race Course in Miami Gardens, where her juveniles gave the two-time Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer and defending purse-money leader her most memorable stakes-winning afternoon since Kentucky Derby starter Watch Me Go won the 2011 Tampa Bay Derby at Oldsmar.
For the first time in 28 years as a conditioner, O'Connell won three stakes on one card. It came at the Juvenile Showcase, a card exclusively for 2-year-olds. O'Connell swept both legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes with My Brown Eyed Guy in the Affirmed and Scandalous Act in the Susan's Girl, two $125,000 races. Unbeaten Secret Kitten captured the $75,000 Catcharising Star. And Legal Laura won at the maiden special weight level, all for breeder-owner Gilbert Campbell of Tynghsborough, Mass. The horses were bred at his Stonehedge Farm South in Williston.
Working with 2-year-olds is an O'Connell specialty.
"They're like my little diamonds in the rough," the Odessa sexagenarian and native of Detroit said. "I feel like I'm a proud schoolteacher."
My Brown Eyed Guy and Scandalous Act moved a step closer to giving O'Connell a sweep in the Florida Stallion Stakes, which concludes Oct. 12 with a pair of $300,000 races. The three-race series began July 20 with My Brown Eyed Guy winning the $75,000 Dr. Fager and Scandalous Act taking the $75,000 Desert Vixen.
"Brown Eyed Guy has a lot of talent, but he has some mental baby issues to overcome," O'Connell said. "Scandalous Act is a trainer's dream and is very professional."
Eduardo Nunez, O'Connell's regular rider, was scheduled to ride both horses again. But he fell off another O'Connell entry, Lovely Lexi, in the Catcharising Star and was replaced by Antonio Gallardo, who won all three stakes for O'Connell. Nunez returned to ride Sunday. Gallardo also was involved in an incident in the final race, the $75,000 Calder Turf Dash, when he was unseated by O'Connell trainee Union Cash, who ran loose on the track, necessitating a scratch.
O'Connell maiden special weight starter Razzle Dazzle Man added to the intrigue when he broke through the gate pre-start, but he finished second.
DOGS: Derby Lane will have a matinee performance Monday. There will be no evening racing, but the St. Petersburg track will remain open.