OLDSMAR, Fla. -- Just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong when Don't Forget Gil finished third in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in February. But everything went right according to plan when the New York-bred filly returned to Tampa on Saturday to register a four-length victory over Ameribelle in the $200,000 Florida Oaks. The Oaks was one of three stakes on the Tampa Bay Derby undercard.
Don't Forget Gil broke through the gate prior to the start of the Suncoast. She then lost considerable ground while attempting to rally around the final turn before finishing willingly to drop a half-length decision to Rock Candy.
She had no such problems in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks. With Rajiv Maragh aboard, Don't Forget Gil rated off the early pace of Miss Ocean City, then rallied in company with both Rock Candy and Ameribelle to overtake the leader midway around the second turn. Don't Forget Gil shook off her two main rivals while racing nearest the inside entering the stretch before extending her advantage under mild urging through the final furlong. Ameribelle was easily second best, finishing five lengths in front of Rock Candy.
Don't Forget Gil established a stakes record of 1:43.65 for the 1 1/16-mile Florida Oaks and paid $4.40. A daughter of Katwain, Don't Forget Gil is trained by Mark Hennig for owner Alan Brodsky.
"She had a cut on the end of her nose from the incident at the gate before her last start here," said Hennig's assistant Rob Rader. "So you know she hit the gate with her head. There was no doubt she was the best horse in the race that day and today's race didn't come up any tougher. It was basically the same horses again."
Maragh is now perfect in two trips aboard Don't Forget Gil, having also guided her to victory in Aqueduct's East View Stakes for New York-breds in her 2-year-old finale.
"I wanted to get first run on our two main rivals and I knew if I did that, they wouldn't get by her," said Maragh.
Hillsborough: Backseat Rhythm by a nose
Backseat Rhythm asserted her class through the final furlong of the $175,000 Hillsborough Stakes, running down pacesetter Elusive Lady in the final stride to register a heart-thumping nose victory in the Grade 3 turf stakes for fillies and mares. Ballymore Lady finished another three-quarters of a length farther back in third.
Backseat Rhythm ($4) won the Grade 1 Garden City and finished second in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup at 3. And she needed every ounce of that class to catch Elusive Lady, who was able to get away with a snail-like pace, setting fractions of 25.67 seconds, 51.92, and 1:16.32 for the opening six furlongs of the 1 1/8-mile Hillsborough. Backseat Rhythm's cause seemed hopeless when she turned for home more than five lengths behind the leader, but she finished full of run along the rail to get up in the last jump.
"I knew if anything went wrong with the pace scenario it would turn into a desperate situation but she came through an impossible hole and really showed her class," said Pat Reynolds, who trains Backseat Rhythm for owner Paul Pompa Jr. "She really showed what she's made of out there today."
The victory was the third on the day for jockey Eibar Coa and the first in 2009 for Reynolds, who is stabled this winter at Gulfstream Park.
"It feels like the Sword of Damocles has been lifted from above my head," said Reynolds.
Turf Dash: Centeno strikes again
Castle in the Sky rallied along the rail, then outgamed 50-1 pacesetter Cooper County to capture the $75,000 Turf Dash Stakes. The victory was the second in a row for jockey Daniel Centeno, who also won the Tampa Bay Derby aboard Musket Man.
Castle in the Sky, a 6-year-old son of Sky Classic, is trained by Jamie Ness for owner Sukharan Balkrisna. He covered five furlongs in 55.75 seconds over a firm course and paid $16.40.
Chamberlain Bridge, the 4-5 favorite shipping in from Fair Grounds, flashed brief speed after being bumped at the start before fading steadily to finish ninth in a field of 10 grass specialists.