12/13/2010 12:41PM

Nafzger sets up shop at Tampa Bay


OLDSMAR, Fla. – Two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Carl Nafzger will have a string of 14 horses here at Tampa Bay Downs this winter.

Nafzger won the 1990 Kentucky Derby with Unbridled and the 2007 Derby with Street Sense, a horse he shipped here to win the Tampa Bay Derby in a prep that set him up perfectly for his success in Kentucky.

It was his experience with Street Sense and other horses he has shipped to Tampa over the years from the East Coast of Florida that prompted Nafzger to apply for stalls here this season.

“I have been very pleased in the past with the racing surfaces both on the main track and the turf course, very happy with the way most of my horses come out of races here, so we decided to ask for stalls this season,” Nafzger said. “We will have horses at Palm Meadows, but we can ship horses to Tampa and back, try them on the turf if we want, and if they show a particular fondness for the main track or the turf there then we can leave them there and race them there. It gives us a lot of flexibility with our organization.”

Nafzger said he has a good mix of runners from claiming types up to stakes runners but there aren’t any standouts at this point.

“That’s what this time of year is for,” he said. “We can assess our stock, evaluate our young runners, and plot a plan of action for the spring.”

Nafzger will share his barn with Ian Wilkes, a former assistant who has had his own stable for several years now.

Another newcomer with an illustrious past is Dave Vance, a no-nonsense, blue-collar horseman, who has endured the highs and lows of the business. Vance has gone from leading the nation in races won in a single season, training for an Eclipse Award-winning owner, to having his stable dwindle down to just a few runners. But he has always persevered and has won more than 3,000 races in his career.

New riders on the scene

There are a number of new riders here this season trying to hustle up mounts.

While established veterans like four-time leading rider Daniel Centeno, Rosemary Homeister Jr, Ron Allen Jr., and Luis Gonzalez are expected to have good meetings, a couple of new faces could make their presence felt, topped by Luis Garcia.

Garcia, a perennial power in Maryland and Virginia, will be riding full-time here for the first season and has secured former rider Herson Sanchez as his agent. Sanchez, who handled Centeno’s engagements the first year that rider topped the standings here, says Garcia’s reputation has preceded him and he is getting a lot of interest from trainers here, including Michael Matz and Graham Motion.

Garcia scored a riding double on opening day Saturday and piloted a Matz runner, J Z Warrior, to victory in a six-furlong prep for the Minaret Stakes, which will be run New Year’s Day.

Leandro Goncalves also won a race on opening day. He was very impressive here last season before being forced to undergo surgery to repair bone spurs on his hips.