OLDSMAR — The Tampa Bay Derby became a Greek tragedy for Schoolyard Dreams and a tale of prosperity for Odysseus.
Festival Day provided one of the most dramatic and controversial moments in Tampa Bay Downs lore Saturday as Odysseus won the Grade III $300,000 signature race in a photo finish in front of 11,025.
Odysseus, a 3-year-old colt by Malibu Sun and owned by Clearwater residents Satish and Anne Sanan and their Padua Stables, needed 1 minute, 44.31 seconds to run the 11/16th-mile race for his first career stakes win. But it was much longer before the photo-finish result was posted on the tote board showing No. 7 — not the No. 5 of Schoolyard Dreams — in first.
After the two foes crossed the finish line, Schoolyard Dreams' connections raced into the winner's circle, and the track's TV monitors focused on Schoolyard Dreams galloping out, usually an indication of the winner.
Tom Albertrani, who became the first two-time winning trainer in the 30-year Tampa Bay Derby, was sure he had lost and said he didn't know Odysseus had won until "they hung the 7 up." Schoolyard Dreams co-owner Eric Fein, seeking his third straight event win, was sure he had it. "Unbelievable. What a bad loss that was," he said, stunned. "I thought I won."
Both colts appeared to be struggling in the stretch after collaring 3-2 favorite and pace-setter Super Saver, who set fractions of 23.52 and 47.02 seconds. The WinStar Farm colt eventually finished third, less than a length behind.
Albertrani thought jockey Rajiv Maragh made a premature move in the race with Odysseus, as did Fein of his rider, Jeremy Rose, with Schoolyard Dreams.
"I thought we were done at the three-eighths pole," Albertrani said. "(Odysseus) was dropping out of it for some reason. But at the one-eighth pole, he was right back in the hunt again. The last few yards he just kept grinding and digging in harder. (We) got lucky to get up."
Owner Satish Sanan had the same opinion. "I thought at the one-sixteenth pole, we were beaten," he said. "Rajiv told me when (Schoolyard Dreams) came on the outside (in the stretch), he got intimidated. Rajiv said he had a lot of horse, so he went back on the inside and used that turn afoot."
Fein said Rose told him "he went way too early and made a mistake."
Odysseus (paid $6 to win), who had career earnings of $39,920 through his first three starts, earned $180,000 with his third consecutive victory. Albertrani said Odysseus' future will be determined in several weeks.
In other Grade III races, jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. guided Diva Delite ($5.60) to victory in the $175,000 Florida Oaks, and rider Ramon Dominguez collected his 3,995th career win with Phola ($5.80) in the $150,000 Hillsborough. Trainer Jamie Ness won his fourth straight $75,000 Turf Dash when Sneaking Uponyou ($17) beat stablemate Probation Ready under Huber Villa Gomez.
Rachel Alexandra upset: Rachel Alexandra, the 2009 horse of the year, was beaten by Zardana in the $200,000 New Orleans Ladies at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Rachel Alexandra, 8-0 as a 3-year-old, raced for the first time in more than six months.
Ridden by Calvin Borel, who also rode her to a win over males at last year's Preakness, she was a 1-9 favorite. Zardana, going off at 9-1 and ridden by David Flores, shot from third to first coming out of the final turn and won by 3/4 of a length in 1:43.55 on the 11/16-mile dirt track. The race was expected to be a warmup for Rachel Alexandra's showdown with unbeaten Zenyatta, Zardana's stablemate, at Oaklawn on April 9.
Zenyatta wins again: Zenyatta, in her first race in four months, extended her career record to 15-0 by winning the $250,000 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. Under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, she won by 11/4 lengths, covering the 11/8-mile synthetic surface in 1:48.20.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.