March 13, 2022 – In control.
That was a theme that played itself out from morning to early evening in Oldsmar on Saturday as Tampa Bay Downs celebrated Festival Week 42.
Any more weekends like this one and the track may be forced to mark renewals with Roman numerals.
Control: That was Classic Causeway which, replicating his Sam F. Davis form, cut and pasted his Tampa Bay Derby romp on his Kentucky Kentucky resume—now that he officially has one. Outstanding work by Brian Lynch.
Control: That was Irad Ortiz Jr., more passenger than pilot, although Irad, being Irad, there was some steering involved. But for the most part he was on horseback and thoroughly enjoyed his work.
Control: That was tactical early speed, all day long, save for one. And that exception was a million-dollar newcomer named Gina Romantica, who came from the clouds.
The mating of Into Mischief with an Unbridled’s Song mare, appropriately named Special Me, produced a filly capable of shading her final quarter-mile OF 24 seconds. Parenthetically, we doubt we’ll see her in an “a other than” next out.
Other than ‘Gina’, lone F won thrice, head-to-head speed twice, and from as far back as third.
When Classic Causeway jumps he makes his competition look slow by comparison. He’s a bullet away from the barrier but is no runoff, coming back to his rider kindly within the first furlong.
Ortiz rationed the speed intermittently, as if teasing the competition, which is exactly what he did, coaxing a half-mile in 48.17 and three-quarters in 1:13.18 over a dull, damp surface. The only horse who dared challenge the leader was Shipsational’s attempted sweep at mid-far turn.
After floating any and all challengers at headstretch, Ortiz took several looks around for rivals–not as often as, say, Jose Lezcano–but when time came he got down on his belly. The colt won ridden out with at least a half tankful in reserve.
The final time of 1:44.90 is about what one would expect following another quarter-mile in 25.22, but the handsome chestnut did separate himself with a final sixteenth of 06.50, the only time he was asked to extend himself.
Grantham, who was sneaky good in the Withers, held pole position throughout, a grim and determined runnerup, and once again high marks for New York-bred Shipsational, who raced and chased 4-5 wide throughout and re-surged again to save the show.
Golden Glider improved on his Davis effort, closing well at the end to finish fourth. Trademark was a very good fifth, in the hunt all the way and lost place by a total of three necks at 72-1.
The rank disappointments were second favorite Major General and fourth choice Happy Boy Rocket. Each had their problems at the start, but were terrible nonetheless, finishing last and next-to-last, respectively.
The supposition is that something may have gone wrong after the start with Major General, who was making a Derby-belated season’s debut.
Now it’s on to Keeneland for the nine-furlong reinstated Grade 1 Blue Grass where the waters figure to be much deeper. But when the competition comes after Classic Causeway in Lexington, they had best have their running shoes tied on.
Control: Finally, that was Tampa Bay Downs all day long. They rung out the sealed track through the early races and with a little help from occasional wind gusts, the surface was sufficiently damp-fast for Derby. Management made a good call shutting down and preserving the turf course on Friday.
Indeed, there was no racing in Queens or Laurel, but there was action in Hallandale, Arcadia, Hot Springs and New Orleans and Tampa ruled the roost.
Fifty-seven hundred fans and simulcast outlets pushed an astounding $20.7M through the wickets, $3.6M of it on the Tampa Derby. Year over year, the increase was an eye-popping 36%.
It does a soul good to see a good job be rewarded.
Bets N’ Pieces
Michael McCarthy managed very nicely to squeeze a mile and a sixteenth out of his Eclipse champion sprinter Ce Ce. Tracking classy pacesetter Shedaresthedevil 3-4 wide down the backside, the sprint champion went on the attack on the far turn, taking the G2 Azeri lead at headstretch.
Pauline’s Pearl, compromised when squeezed at the start, came running in midstretch and the three favorites raced in tandem. To her credit, Ce Ce’s challengers were closer at the sixteenth pole than at the wire. The six-year-old mare apparently loves a good fight, showing plenty of class at the finish…
Bill Mott sure had talented Obligatory set for her season’s debut, taking Gulfstream’s G3 Hurricane Bertie in style. Allowed to lag early, the gray filly went from last to challenging the early chasers in a twinkling. Once Tyler Gaffalione turned her loose she was gone, widening her advantage under the mildest urging.
Tampa Bay’s three remaining graded stakes were noteworthy. Bleecker Street stayed undefeated in her fifth start, again demonstrating what has become her signature turn of foot–and she wasn’t expected to like any cut in the ground. Not a problem in the G2 Hillsborough…
Chad Brown completed his second turf exacta of the day when Dolce Zel, making her U.S. debut, surprised stablemate Spicer to take the G3 Florida Oaks at the line. The French-bred filly saved ground throughout, tipped out perfectly, and was driven out to victory. Spicer did all the dirty work, on the chase all the way and grimly holding in a tough-beat effort.
Shug McGaughey has an older horse on the rise. Scalding tracked from third most of the way, went after the leader on the far turn, and determinedly held season-debuting Cody’s Wish safe to win the G3 Challenger. Barring something untoward, they rate to be major handicap players the rest of this year.