Oldsmar, FL, February 13 – At the end of the day, the preps in Northern Florida and Queens, New York accomplished their intended goals: To get a look at present form, provide a glimpse into the future and transition the principals to the next stop of the trail.
And some of those journeys are rough, just ask some of the Sam F Davis connections. Rough? Let’s just say Davis favorite Dubyuhnell and partner Jose Ortiz were caught in severe turbulence on the first turn. Ortiz’s take?
“The first turn was very rough, and I had to check really hard. After that, he never got back on rhythm. That took him out of the race. It was very hard to get back to where I wanted to be.”
Worse, it’s hard to know just how much condition the colt gained. The 2022 Remsen winner was buffeted about between horses for a quarter-mile, dropped uncharacteristically far back, made a good albeit wide run late in the turn, but offered little in the lane, as if badly needing the run.
Many will knock the Davis winner as the race was slowly run–the last five-sixteenths in a sluggish 33.56, enroute to 1-1/16th miles in 1:44.83 over a surface that became tiring from the rains that began about a half-hour earlier.
But slowly run or not, Litigate, Todd Pletcher’s seventh winner in this race impressed as a good racehorse. “He got a good position early and finished well,” the trainer noted. “We thought he would appreciate two turns.”
Litigate left for position from post 11 of 12 in the short run to the turn, was wrangled back off embattled leaders, rallied on cue 3-4 paths wide at the turn, and kept his momentum to the wire in a promising two-turn debut. He appears to have several gears for Luis Saez to use as needed.
Groveland and Laver, both victims of troubled trips, did well thereafter to finish second and sixth, respectively. Groveland was checked at midturn when caught in close, rebroke inside the eighth pole and was a good finish second.
Laver broke in at the start then was totally eliminated when a rival carried him wide into the lower first turn. He’ll be back for the Tampa Derby, said trainer Rusty Arnold Tuesday morning at his Palm Beach Downs base.
Dreaming of the Oaks
Dreaming of Snow, saddled by Tampa’s leading trainer Gerald Bennett and dismissed at 38-1, handled pace pressure throughout and held safe both juvenile filly champion Wonder Wheel and undefeated Demoiselle winner Julia Shining, taking the Suncoast Stakes and earning 20 Oaks qualifying points.
“When we ran her in the Gasparilla [prepping for the Suncoast], we tried to make a run from off the pace but she ran inside and the rail was extremely deep,” explained Bennett post-race.
Saturday, the script was flipped for both the surface and the filly: “You had to be on the rail today and I told Samy to put her on the lead, and she kept going. She likes this track, and you can’t win it if you’re not in it.”
Bennett, seeking his eighth consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training title, feels the same about the Oaks. He is taking his filly on the road and she’ll make her next start in the G3 Fantasy at Oaklawn. As for Camacho, he’s staying the moment: “I just beat Wonder Wheel, wow!”
Mark Casse said before the race he’d be disappointed if Wonder Wheel were beaten but was philosophical in defeat. “I thought she ran very well,” the trainer said. “She got a little tired, but she ran good and this sets her up great.”
Jockey Tyler Gaffalione agreed, taking this perspective: “She was traveling great coming off the layoff. That was my only concern. I tried to wait on her as long as possible but she just got tired. Today wasn’t the end goal. We’ve got bigger things ahead.”
Keeneland’s G1 Ashland is the next scheduled stop for Wonder Wheel and show finisher Julia Shining, who also made her sophomore debut. She made her run late in the turn while wide and finished up nicely in a useful effort.
While late afternoon rain rendered a Tampa surface that was glib earlier in the day tiring, the sand and loam in New York was very dull throughout the afternoon as the Withers favorites–runnerup Arctic Arrogance and victorious Hit Show—proved, needing 1:54.71 to complete nine furlongs.
While he raced in the garden spot throughout, it was Hit Show’s tactical speed made his trip possible as he trailed embattled leaders until Manny Franco gave him his cue, eventually drawing off in deep stretch to win by 5-1/2 impressive lengths.
Hit Show came out of the Withers in good form and likely will target the next race in the local series, the storied Wood Memorial at the same mile and one-eighth trip. Trainer Brad Cox, like Pletcher, has many balls in the air with much juggling to do. Stay tuned.