Roman Tiger upsets the Tampa Bay Stakes.

Roman Tiger upsets the Tampa Bay Stakes.

John Duca/Tom Cooley

Roman Tiger Claws Way to Tampa Bay Upset

Nose victory at 28-1 odds gives 7-year-old gelding first graded stakes tally.

Roman Tiger snapped a 13-race losing streak when he snuck through along the rail for jockey Angel Serpa to win the $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes (gr. IIIT) as a 28-1 shot on the turf Feb. 25 (VIDEO).

Owned and trained by Dennis Manning, 7-year-old Roman Tiger earned the first graded stakes win of his 24-race career, defeating 33-1 pacesetter El Commodore by a nose.

Roman Tiger's last victory came in the Island Whirl Florida Thoroughbred Charities Stakes for state-breds at Gulfstream Park in April 2010. He completed the 1 1/16-mile distance on firm going in a solid 1:40.42.

The bay gelding, bred in Florida by Bowling and Dodd, is by Tiger Ridge--Sunny's Freckles, by Sam's Sunny Hour.

Manning said he purchased Roman Tiger for $20,000 as a 2-year-old at the Timonium sale in Maryland after he was bought back by the consignor.

“My client didn’t care for his pedigree and I had already committed to buy him, so I took him for myself,” Manning said.

Roman Tiger ran sixth in the Sunshine Millions Turf at 34-1 in his most recent start Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park. Though this was only his third lifetime victory, Roman Tiger had three prior graded stakes placings. The victory boosted his career bankroll to $411,470.

In a full field of 12, Brazilian-bred Moryba, looking for his first stakes victory in the United States, was made the lukewarm 4-1 favorite.

Roman Tiger, breaking from the rail, settled in mid-pack early along the inside after stumbling a bit at the start, saving ground as El Commodore went to the front and led comfortably for Daniel Coa with Successful Mission and Lentenor  tracking on El Commodore's outside. Fractions were :24.03, :47.94, and 1:11.73.

Serpa had Roman Tiger on the move rounding the far turn and they advanced to challenge along the inside near mid-stretch. Roman Tiger had just enough room to squeeze through on the inside of El Commodore in the final furlong and then responded to strong urging to get up in the final couple of strides.

Roman Tiger, who paid $59.40, $29.60, and $19 across the board, combined with El Commodore ($31.40, $14) for a $2 exacta worth $1,393.60. Fast-closing Swift Warrior, at 11-1, was a half-length farther back in third for Mark Guidry, paying $8 to show. Allie's Event, at 10-1 odds, finished fourth. The $2 trifecta paid $8,996 and a $1 superfecta returned $141,764.

Serpa earned his first graded victory as well.

“I knew my best chance was to stay put and save every inch of ground I could,” Serpa said. “Some of the  best horses in the race, I thought, were going to be stuck far outside. My horse was very comfortable down the backstretch and really wanted to do more, so I just let him pick his way forward and when we got to the top of the stretch, it looked like there would be an opening for him and I asked him.

“Just for a second the hole seemed to close, but it opened up again right away and he fired up inside every step. I don’t feel lucky. I think I had the best horse.”

Manning also won the 2009 Tampa Bay Stakes with Victory Alleged, who at the time was an 8-year-old gelding owned by Mac Fehsenfeld.

“I got nervous when (Roman Tiger) stumbled at the break, but he regained himself and after he went by the stands the first time, Angel had him in perfect position,” Manning said. “I told him to save all the ground on the inside and sit five or six lengths off the lead, and when you ask him, he’ll run. Then it was a matter of whether he was good enough, and today he was.”

Manning said Roman Tiger had a bad trip in the Sunshine Millions Turf.

“He got a really bad break, and Paco (Lopez) almost fell off leaving the gate,” Manning said. “I thought he ran well recovering off of that.”

But Manning has been around long enough to know the breaks usually even out. “I got lucky, and God was shining down on me today,” he said.

Lentenor, a full brother to 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Barbaro, finished fifth, followed by Versailles Road. Moryba, hung wide on the far turn, struggled home seventh, with second choice Successful Mission finishing eighth. Then came Guys Reward, Hoofit, Duke of Mischief , and Union Bowman.

The winner had one prior start on the Tampa Bay turf, finishing fifth in the 2010 Turf Classic.