04/04/2011 11:59AM

Tampa Bay Downs: Jr’s Exchange takes advantage of surface switch to set track record

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Tom Cooley
Jr’s Exchange, with Ronnie Allen Jr. riding, sets a track record of 56.57 seconds for five furlongs on dirt on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – Earlier last week, Pat Scanlon, owner of Jr’s Exchange, had a wary eye on the weather forecast for the weekend as he talked about his horse’s chances in Saturday’s $30,000 overnight handicap at five furlongs on the Tampa Bay Downs turf.

When a series of strong storms roared through the Tampa area Wednesday night and Thursday, dumping more than five inches of rain on the grounds here, the race was moved from the turf course to the main track and suddenly Jr’s Exchange was going to race over dirt. His record on dirt and synthetic surfaces was four wins from 10 starts, and with the track surface tight and speed condusive after the influx of moisture, Jr’s Exchange had the firm and fast footing he preferred.

So, it was no surprise when the 5-year-old Jr’s Exchange shot to the front under Ronnie Allen Jr. What was a little surprising was the fact that after cutting out fractions of 22.17 and 44.70 seconds, he would spurt away from the field through the final furlong, cover the final furlong in less than12 seconds, and hit the wire with a 5 1/4-length advantage while covering the distance in 56.57, setting a track record for five furlongs on dirt.

“He told me he didn’t know how he was going to break to news to Fox,” Scanlon joked, referring to a conversation he had with his trainer Gerald Bennett on Sunday. Blind River Fox, another Bennett runner, had set the previous track record of 57.04 last season at the ripe old age of 8.

“I’ve owned horses for almost 20 years and have been involved with several track-record holders, but this little horse has been very exciting to be around,” Scanlon said. “He’s just a neat horse and is so dead honest it’s nice that he has his day in the sunshine.”

Assistant starter kicked, breaks leg

When assistant starter Anthony Ranno suffered a broken left fibula after being viciously kicked by Lift Off as he and other assistant starters were attempting to load the horse into the starting gate for Saturday’s eighth race, it again brought to light the fact that the job of assistant starter is one of racing’s most inherently dangerous and unappreciated occupations.

In Ranno’s case, he was standing just to the left and behind Lift Off when the 1,100-pound Thoroughbred suddenly lashed out with his left hind leg, striking Renno just above the ankle. He was taken to Town and Country Hospital, then sent home. He was to see an orthopedic surgeon Monday. He probably faces surgery and is out indefinitely.

◗ Frank Dell, clerk of scales here, died in his sleep Saturday night at the age of 85. Dell had a long and illustrious career on the track, having served in a number of capacities in racing, including steward, assistant racing secretary, clocker, and jockey’s agent. He also helped secure track announcer Richard Grunder’s first announcing job in the United States.

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