Downs trainer seeks to cap big week

OLDSMAR — So far, it has been a wonderful week for trainer Greg Griffith.

He and his wife, Donna, took a cruise to Mexico to celebrate his 56th birthday (which was Sunday), Valentine's Day and their upcoming 37th wedding anniversary (Feb. 28). El Commodore can be the topper.

Owned and bred by Kinsman Farm — the Ocala-based operation owned by the family of the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner — the horse will attempt to give Griffith his first graded win today in the Grade III $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The 6-year-old gelded son of El Prado came ever so close last year to winning the 1�th-mile event, leading every stride except the final one in losing to Roman Tiger by a nose.

The Downs' leading jockey, Angel Serpa, who rode Roman Tiger in that race, has the mount on El Commodore from post No. 7. Roman Tiger and Todd Pletcher-trainee Doubles Partner (the 2011 winner) are among the 13 turf runners in Race 9 (4:24 p.m.).

El Commodore comes off a bullet 5-furlong workout of 1 minute flat on Feb. 7.

"He's training really, really good," Griffith said. "The only thing that scares me is the (recent) rain," said Griffith, who added if rain forces the race to shift from turf to dirt, El Commodore will be scratched.

A current five-race losing streak doesn't reflect the improvement made over the past year by El Commodore.

"He got slight pneumonia in 2011, and we took him home to the farm for almost a year," Griffith said. "That time really helped him mature and helped him move from the allowance to the stakes company."

Originally trained by William Mott, El Commodore was second in the Grade III Red Bank Stakes on July 4 at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J. A five-time winner among 25 starts, El Commodore early in his career tended to show speed before stopping.

The issue was corrected when Griffith learned the Kentucky-bred didn't like the whip. Griffith said the horse learned to rate in his previous start, Jan. 19, when he finished second in an allowance race at the Downs.

Said Griffith: "I told Donna if we could win this race, it would probably be the best week of our lives."

More Horses: Undefeated Verrazano, a Pletcher trainee, is expected to make his stakes debut in the Grade II $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 9 at the Downs.

Dogs: The $64,000 Sprint Classic, Derby Lane's richest 550-yard stakes race, begins tonight with qualifying in Races 4, 6, 8 and 10. The final is March 2. … Multiple kennel champion John Filipelli, who left Derby Lane in 2010, started a kennel with Dean Miner at Bluffs Run in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Some of their stock came from new Derby Lane kennel owners John and Jill Lashmet. … Jack Gerard Collins Sr., 79, president and owner of the Sarasota Kennel Club, died Feb. 6 of undisclosed causes. Services were Sunday in Sarasota.

Downs trainer seeks to cap big week 02/15/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 15, 2013 8:05pm]

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