12/03/2012 4:02PM

Tampa Bay Downs: Chabot makes long haul to Florida for winter

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OLDSMAR, Fla. – When they say horses come from far and wide to race at Tampa Bay Downs, they’re not kidding.

Trainer Rob Chabot pulled into Oldsmar last month after traveling from Edmonton, Alberta. It was a trip that Chabot calculated in days, not miles.

“Yeah, it was three or four days by the time we got here,” Chabot said, “You just load up and head southeast. The nicest thing about it is it steadily gets warmer the farther south you get.”

This will be Chabot’s third winter at Tampa, and the trainer was asked why he made the decision to make such a long trek to race.

“Well, the race meetings at Northlands are getting shorter and it’s virtually impossible to train up north in the winter, so we decided to come south,” he said. “The track’s great to train over here, the weather’s darn near perfect, and it’s a good place to get a gauge on one’s stock.”

Chabot brought a young horse named Up Jumps a Monster here last year. Up Jumps a Monster won an optional claiming sprint here for his second win and went on to win two more before running second in the Manitoba Derby and fifth in the Grade 3 Canadian Derby. Third in his last outing in the Golden Harvest Stakes at Northlands, Up Jumps a Monster is being freshened and will most likely make his 4-year-old debut in late January.

“I made some mistakes with him, or he would have had better chances in those big races,” Chabot said. “But he’s a nice horse, and we’re looking forward to seeing him run next year.”

Santiago joins rider colony

Victor Santiago is just one of a number of riders who are racing at Tampa Bay Downs for the first time this season, but the 26-year-old native of Puerto Rico is excited about the chance to compete at the oval that jockeys such as Jose Lezcano and Leandro Goncalves have used as a stepping-stone to fame and fortune.

Santiago, who won on the first horse he rode in this country when he piloted Austin’s Laviva Baby to victory in 2008, has been racing at top venues like Monmouth Park and Saratoga as he tries to make a name for himself against top competion.

Winner of the 2010 Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby aboard Yankee Fourtune for trainer Kiaran McLauglin, Santiago hasn’t run up many wins but seems to come up with top efforts in big races.

Jim McNerney, who handled Goncalves’s engagements at Tampa last year, was impressed enough to team up with Santiago.

Cibelli, Motion have good opening day

Jane Cibelli, who is in the midst of her best season in terms of races won and purse earnings, won two races on the opening-day card, including the Inaugural with Purple Egg, who has won three straight.

Graham Motion also won two races on the card. It was no surprise that both wins came over the turf course, which played surprisingly slow in its first action since being refurbished following last year’s meeting.