OLDSMAR — Two hours after putting career win No. 1,400 in her scrapbook Wednesday, Kathleen O'Connell turned back to another page.
It was the one featuring Watch Me Go, whose upset victory in the 2011 Tampa Bay Derby gave the trainer and her longtime owner, Gilbert Campbell of Ocala, their first taste of the Kentucky Derby. It was the first Grade II race in Tampa Bay Downs history and had an element unexpected by most: Watch Me Go went off at 43-1 odds despite a third-place showing in the Grade III Sam F. Davis.
"That day was very, very awesome and very, very meaningful to me," said O'Connell, a two-time Oldsmar training champion. "I've been at Tampa Bay Downs every year in some capacity, whether it was galloping or training, since 1976. To win a race like that on your home course was very, very exciting."
This afternoon, 336 days after that race, Watch Me Go returns to the Downs for the first time since that milestone win, in the $75,000 Super Stakes (Race 9, 4:10 p.m.). The 4-year-old West Acre colt makes his first start in six months with leading jockey Leandro Goncalves.
O'Connell preferred to have an allowance race under Watch Me Go by now, but the race didn't go. His last workout was Feb. 2, clocking six furlongs in 1 minute, 15 seconds.
Watch Me Go had a challenging 2011. After the Tampa Bay Derby, he ran in four stakes in four states. At the Kentucky Derby, luck wasn't on his side; he finished 18th among 19 horses at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The Florida-bred drew the outside post, lost his footing leaving the starting gate and had a wide trip.
He was 12th in the Grade II Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs in New Kent, and sixth as the wagering favorite in the Grade III Illinois Derby at Hawthorne in Stickney/Cicero. Watch Me Go's last race was Aug. 6 in the Select Stakes at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J. He finished fifth.
The $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby had several subplots as Watch Me Go and jockey Luis Garcia beat 86-1 shot Crimson Knight, trained by Downs conditioner Gerald Bennett, by a neck. Both horses overtook Brethren, the Sam F. Davis winner and 1-2 betting choice, entering the stretch.
Uncle Mo, the one-time Kentucky Derby favorite, was entered, but he was scratched and ran that day in the Timely Writer Stakes, which he won at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.
Watch Me Go has four wins from 13 starts and leads his seven Super Stakes rivals in career earnings at $322,595.
"He was sent to the owner's farm for a well-deserved vacation," O'Connell said. "He looks wonderful, has matured and probably gained at least 150 pounds.
"There's no way to describe (the Tampa Bay Derby win). Awesome is not a good enough word. In this business, being with somebody (like Campbell) for a 20-year span and to get to the Derby for him was special."