OLDSMAR — Performance, not potential, will define this season's 3-year-old thoroughbred class. So far, Manicero has been the man.
A son of Grade I winner Mass Media, Manicero closed 2010 with three straight victories, the final two in stakes. The Florida bred makes his 3-year-old debut today in the Pasco Stakes, one of two $75,000 co-featured races on the Skyway Festival Day card at Tampa Bay Downs. The Pasco (Race 9, 4:10 p.m.) is for colts and geldings, the Gasparilla (Race 7, 3:16) for fillies. Both are 7 furlongs on the main track.
Triple Crown fever amps up this time of year. The past two Pasco winners, Uptowncharlybrown and Musket Man, raced in the Downs' 1 1/16-mile preps, the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby. Uptowncharlybrown ran in the Belmont; he finished 12th through disqualification. Musket Man was third in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
Could a win in the Pasco put Manicero on the same path? "We'll see how he does (today) and go from there," Ocala owner Leo Azpurua Sr. said. "It takes a really good horse to get to the Kentucky Derby."
Azpurua was the trainer for Sir Sir, who finished 12th in the 1977 Run for the Roses behind eventual Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Azpurua bought Manicero as a weanling at an undisclosed price from breeder Roberto Sanson. Azpurua's son, Leo Jr., is the trainer.
Manicero made his Downs debut Dec. 28, winning the $75,000 Inaugural, the first victory in which he came from off the pace. The colt's first stakes win was the $125,000 Jack Price Juvenile on Nov. 13 at Calder in Miami Gardens, two weeks after breaking his maiden. He has earnings of $144,008 from four starts.
"He's not a big horse, but he's powerful," Azpurua said. "I think he's going to develop to be one of the best sprinters in the country."
Manicero has yet to go beyond 7 furlongs. He is the first stakes winner sired by Mass Media, who captured the 2005 Grade I Forego Handicap at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., at 7 furlongs. Manicero is out of the Kris S. mare Ritzy Blitz.
He drew post 5 in the 10-horse Pasco field for jockey Luis Saez. A main rival is Bert B Don, who has two wins and five seconds in seven starts. Two-time stakes winner Devilish Lady goes for her fourth consecutive victory against seven fillies in the Gasparilla.
DOGS: McAllister Kennel's Flying Coal City incurred a small shoulder muscle tear in his $8,000 Inaugural win Jan. 8 at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, track spokeswoman Vera Rasnake said. He will miss the $10,000 Matinee Idol, which begins Wednesday afternoon. The first four dogs in two qualifiers advance to the Jan. 22 finale.