Smithwick’s Spice Wins $100,000 Leinster Turf Dash Stakes

Mike Henry, Tampa Bay Downs

Few sounds you’ll hear are as joyous, and filled with love and gratitude, or as loud as the high-pitched yells coming from trainer Douglas Nunn after his 8-year-old gelding Smithwick’s Spice hung on under jockey Daniel Centeno to win the 21st running of the $100,000 Leinster Turf Dash Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs by a neck from Extendo.

Nunn trained the winner’s dam, Spicy McHaggis, and his siblings. He has always believed in Smithwick’s Spice, but had doubts about entering him against the quality of competition in the Leinster Turf Dash.

“I liked him cutting back in distance today (following a good second going 1 1/16-mile earlier this month at Gulfstream Park), but these were not just New Jersey-bred horses,” Nunn said once his state of near-hysteria subsided. “I was all ready to scratch him, but the owner (New Spice Stable’s Robert Matthies) said let’s take a shot.

“He had never run against the big boys, and I didn’t want to take his heart away. But he showed he can run with the big boys,” added Nunn, who broke Smithwick’s Spice as a yearling.

In the co-feature on the Turf Sprint Showcase Day card, Play the Music overcame early trouble to win the $100,000 Leinster Lightning City Stakes for older fillies and mares under jockey Antonio Gallardo. More on that race soon.

Smithwick’s Spice’s time for the 5 furlongs on the grass was 55.98 seconds. Yes I Am Free, the wagering favorite, flattened out in the stretch and finished third, a half-length behind Extendo and ¾-lengths ahead of Thealligatorhunter.

Storm the Court, the 2019 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, was a late scratch.

Smithwick’s Spice paid $14.20 to win. He improved to 10-for-40 lifetime and the winner’s share of $45,000 raised his career earnings to $508,847. His only other stakes victory came in the 2022 Joey P. Handicap at Monmouth Park.

Once Smithwick’s Spice showed Centeno he wanted the lead, the jockey rolled with the veteran campaigner and was richly rewarded. “He fought the entire way. I’ve ridden him before and he’s always run good for me,” Centeno said. “When I turned for home I saw (Antonio) Gallardo (on Yes I Am Free) outside me and I thought, he’s not going to go by me. My horse likes to fight, and he ran big today.”

The victory was the first for Nunn at the meet from 15 starts. Forgive him for celebrating as if it was his 16th.

“The reason I’m still here doing this is this horse,” Nunn said after rejoicing with his wife, Maria Claire Van Sant. “When this horse retires, I’ll retire. He doesn’t want to retire yet, so I guess I’m going to keep on going.

“When you hang a bridle on some horses, it’s hard because they don’t always give you what they have. This horse has given everything he has from Day 1,” Nunn added, tears flowing freely.

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