02/23/2012 4:58PM

Tampa Bay: Lentenor tests Grade 3 waters in Tampa Bay Stakes

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OLDSMAR, Fla. – The decision by the connections of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom to skip the Grade 3, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes in favor of an allowance race at Gulfstream Park for his first start of 2012 took a bit of the luster off Saturday’s feature at Tampa Bay Downs. But the presence of million-dollar earner Duke of Mischief and Lentenor, full brother to 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, in the overflow field of 13 help make the 1 1/16th-mile turf race an intriguing challenge for bettors.

[MORE: PPs and video previews for the Saturday card at Tampa Bay Downs]

Lentenor, who has 2 wins and a third from 4 starts since moving to the barn of trainer Leigh Delacour last summer, has raced only once at the current meeting. That race against optional claiming foes on turf Dec. 23 was eye-catching.

Racing just off the leaders through six furlongs of 1:10.21, Lentenor burst through into the stretch along the inside and overhauled a seasoned veteran in Beckham’s Bend to post a 1 1/2-length win while racing 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.95, just a little more than a second slower than the track record. He earned an 89 Beyer Speed Figure. The portable inner rail was set out 22 feet, which made the time even more impressive.

Lentenor will be making his first start in two months and Delacour said the failure of an allowance race to fill recently prompted the decision to train Lentenor up to the race.

“We had a race marked for him that would have set him up perfectly for Saturday’s race but it didn’t fill,” Delacour said. “They brought the race back six days later but by then the time between races would have been too short. Since he races well fresh we just decided to train him up to the race.”

Delacour noted that Lentenor, like a lot of Dynaformers, continues to develop structurally even though he’s a 5-year-old now and seems to be getting stronger and more powerful with time,

“He’s turned into a beautiful horse. He’s very competitive and loves to sit behind horses and run at them when the time is right,” she said, “It’s time to see if he measures up with stakes company.

“I know Mr. [David] Fawkes’ horse is a very nice horse,” said Delacour, referring to Duke of Mischief, “and were we to be competitive with him, that would say something.”

Duke of Mischief, an earner of $1,713,227 during his career, will be making his first turf start since May 2009 but actually raced well over the Tampa Bay Downs turf course that season, finishing second to Tamborim in the Sophomore Turf Stakes on Florida Cup Day.

“He broke his maiden on the turf then after a couple of races we had an off-the-turf race that was moved to the dirt which he won by many and we never got back to turf,” trainer David Fawkes said, “He hasn’t caught pace scenarios that were favorable to him in his last two since coming back from a pulled muscle so we thought we’d move him to the turf, plus this race will set us up nicely for the Charles Town Classic. We won that race last season and are going back to defend.”

Locally based Allie’s Event, a winner last out here who will be going for his fourth victory over the Tampa turf course, and Guys Reward, who was fifth, beaten just a length in the Grade 3 Ft. Lauderdale at Gulfstream Park in his last race, are among the other contenders.

◗ It’s Me Mom, winner of the $150,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint in 1:08.89 last time out, will be going after her fifth straight win as the overwhelming choice of a field of seven female sprinters entered in a $30,000 overnight handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs.