OLDSMAR — In early December, on the eve of opening day at Tampa Bay Downs, Alan Lockhart started his nonstop drive from New York to Oldsmar. He arrived with no sleep and no idea of what was to happen.
Noah's Expense, a Florida homebred filly owned and trained by Lloyd Lockhart, Alan's 86-year-old grandfather, would become the first thoroughbred to win a race in the Downs' 86th season. Lloyd wasn't at the track that day. But good news traveled fast.
"I called (my grandfather) right after we passed the wire," said Alan, 25, who saddled the $12,500 claimer.
It was the first time the elder Lockhart, a horseman for 60 years and Downs regular for 30 seasons, had won the first race of any meet. With 10 victories and $106,142 in purse earnings, the Somerset, Mass., resident is enjoying his best Downs campaign. He ranks fourth in wins as an owner. After Oldsmar's 92-day campaign ends Sunday, the Lockharts will be among those exiting the Race Track Road facility. Their destination will be Suffolk Downs in East Boston, Mass. "It seems like you see the same people, no matter where you're at," Lloyd said.
The Lockharts also plan to see the 138th Kentucky Derby today. The season's first Triple Crown event (Race 11, 6:24 p.m.) from Churchill Downs in Louisville will be simulcast at Oldsmar, Derby Lane in St. Petersburg and Tampa Greyhound Track. All three Tampa Bay tracks open at 10 a.m.
The Downs continues to have connections to the Derby. Prospective is the eighth Tampa Bay Derby winner in nine years to enter the starting gate. The Mark Casse trainee aims to be the third Downs graduate to win the 1 1/4-mile test, joining Super Saver (2010) and Street Sense (2007). Luis Contreras is his jockey. Two former Oldsmar riding champions have mounts, with Jose Lezcano aboard Rousing Sermon and Willie Martinez on Trinniberg.
Sunday is Fan Appreciation Day at Oldsmar. Unlike the past two years, when the training title wasn't determined until the final day, every individual championship has been decided. Jamie Ness, the nation's wins leader, claimed his sixth consecutive training crown. He shared the title with Gerald Bennett in 2011 and Kathleen O'Connell in 2010. Midwest Thoroughbreds, Ness' major client and No. 1 nationally in victories and purse earnings, will be the leading owner for the third straight year. Jockey Leandro Goncalves, who left in early April, clinched his first Downs crown.
DOGS: The $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile begins tonight at Derby Lane. The first of four 550-yard qualifiers for the May 19 finale are Races 4, 6, 8 and 10. … Magic Finch of Abernathy kennel clocked a season-best time of 37.10 seconds Tuesday on the 660-yard course.