OLDSMAR, FL, March 12, 2023 – It was the kind of day that makes an average sports fan love being at a racetrack. Under high skies with temps in the 70s, anticipation was in the air from the time gates opened two hours before first post.
“Have a good day,” one woman called out to a co-worker…
“It’s gonna’ be a long one,” he replied.
“Good luck today, think the favorite will win the Derby?”
“He’s faster than all of them but he’s never gone two turns before,” went the reply.
Indeed, Tapit Trice proved faster than all of them. The classiest of them, too. And if that weren’t true, he couldn’t go from no chance to a drawing-out two-length victor in less than a quarter-mile, winning in heart-pumping, show-stopping style.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won the Tampa Bay Derby more than anyone, at once expected it but was a little surprised, too. “He finished up the way we expected him to,” but also, “I feel like he’s still learning. Though he got a good education today, I think he needs a little more racing experience.”
We were sitting behind the winning connections, the people connected with Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable, who erupted as their long-striding gray roared passed Classic Car Wash and Classic Legacy to win the G2 Tampa Bay Derby.
Both the runnerup and the show horse were finishing well, but literally were unable to match momentum as Tapit Trice lengthened his stride and winning margin through a very solid final sixteenth of a mile in better than 6.14 seconds.
“The start was a little slow but once he started to get going, he got big-time position for us,” explained jockey Luis Saez. “When the dirt started hitting him in the face he was a little green. But at the half mile pole he really got going.”
Yes, Tapit Trice picked up momentum while very wide at the far turn, his speed taking him into the 6- or 7-path at headstretch. He was moving with Classic Legacy but when those two straightened away, his stride was the equal of two as he lengthened.
“I was really very impressed down the lane,” said Pletcher, who stoicism doesn’t allow him to express excitement. “Once he got clear down the lane, he really extended himself.”
So, too, was the competition impressed: “We moved up inside and went past him, and it looked like he was backing up,” explained Classic Car Wash’s trainer Mark Casse. “You’re always keeping an eye on the favorite, and I thought he was not going anywhere. We had a wide trip, too, but the winner overcame a lot.
“I’m not saying he’s a great horse yet, but I’ve always said the difference between a good horse and the great ones is the good ones win when everything goes right and the great ones win despite things going against them. That horse was very impressive.”.
What 6,023 attendees got to see was performance art, a kick that is most unusual in that it got wider and stronger with each successive stride. “He relished the two turns, and the farther he goes the better he’ll get,” promised his hype-averse trainer.
Horse racing is not in Oldsmar’s fabric, like Saratoga or Lexington, but the locals support their hometown track. A mostly celebratory, younger crowd managed to push $776,443 through the wickets, a per capita of nearly $129, unusually high for a social-centric racing event.
Florida bettors added another $581,401 to that total state-wide and Tampa, a popular simulcast signal despite the fact it is not considered a “major venue,” attracted $16,099,510, a grand total of $17,457,354.
All those dollars rewarded a 12-race card replete with large-field maiden allowances and, of course, four other added-money events, three of those graded, plus an eye-opening turf maiden breaker to conclude the program. But there were human highlights to celebrate. To wit:
- When Dream Concert graduated at first asking, it allowed Kathleen O’Connell to equal Kim Hammond’s all-time winner’s mark set by a female trainer in North America, a record she would eclipse on Sunday. That winning standard is now 2,386 and counting.
- Talk of a Nation won the Columbia Stakes in her fourth start for Shug McGaughey and is now 2-for-2 lifetime on grass. Her mile in 1:33.45 just missed the course record of 1:33.23. Her future is now.
- Skippylongstocking doubtlessly will try bigger game again after winning the G3 Challenger Stakes. He seemed to struggle some over the surface in his first Oldsmar start, but Saffie Joseph’s 4-year-old eventually settled and won drawing out by 3-1/4 lengths at the end.
- Shantisara earned her first victory of 2023 after overcoming some gate traffic to defeat stubborn pacesetter and lone F Scottish Star by 1-1/4 lengths with nine furlongs in 1:47.14 over a very firm course, but was not a threat to Tepin’s 1:46.26 course standard. She promises bigger things ahead.
- Mission of Joy remained undefeated with three local course victories, taking the G3 Florida Oaks by a neck over a resolute Alpha Belle in a solid 1:41.12. “I thought she was super impressive,” said Graham Motion–also a man not given to hyperbole. “She fought for it and showed a lot of heart. I can’t say enough about the good job Annie [assistant Ann Sinchak] has done with her since she got here.”
- Shantisara’s trainer Chad Brown unveiled a top turf prospect in Royalty Interest who broke maiden on debut. She unleashed a devastating late turn foot to win drawing out by 3-1/4 lengths and didn’t stop galloping out until she reached the backstretch.
On balance, it was high quality racing on a beautiful afternoon in the sun at a feel-good, small town racetrack, the kind of day that veteran racetrackers can take a minute to feel sorry for all those who don’t get it about this game.
If destiny permits, HRI can’t wait for Tampa Bay Downs’ 46th Racing Festival, even though we also can’t imagine it can be any better than it was on Saturday.
I loved your line “horse racing is not in Oldsmar’s fabric”–beautifully and aptly written. But you go on to give your readers a glimpse into the local support for Tampa Bay’s biggest day of racing, and clearly your annual pilgrimage from GP to TBD to attend in person speaks volumes to the quality of racing program offered on that day. Thanks for letting me share the experience through your eyes–and pen!
It was my pleasure, Chuck though the drive is a bit taxing but I have a good friend to spend the time with and enjoy her hospitality.
If ever in town, Mystic Fish is a must, make reservations in advance–20 minutes north on Tampa Road from the racetrack.
On message, love the racing there, even the weekday fare and, of course, their turf course is one of the best in America; ask Mott, Shug, Chad and Todd!
God willing, see you in August!