Appearing beaten until her final desperate strides, Canadian-bred 3-year-old filly Dixie Strike staged a whirlwind finish Saturday to win the 29th running of the $150,000 Florida Oaks on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs by a nose from pace setter More Than Love.
Under furious urging from jockey Jose Lezcano, Dixie Strike surged to the lead mere yards from the wire, thrilling owner John C. Oxley and his wife Debby and trainer Mark Casse. Regalo Mia rallied for third, only a neck behind More Than Love, with Northern Passion – Dixie Strike’s stable mate – another half-length back in fourth in the eight-horse field.
A claim of foul by the connections of Regalo Mia against the winner for interference in the stretch was disallowed by the stewards.
Despite a crafty ride by Javier Castellano aboard Grade III winner More Than Love that resulted in crab-like fractions of 25.66 seconds for the quarter-mile and 50.79 for the half, Dixie Strike completed the mile-and-a-sixteenth in a respectable 1:43.30. She paid $3.60 to win as the wagering favorite with Northern Passion.
It was the second stakes victory for the daughter of Dixie Union-Noble Strike, by Smart Strike, who won the $150,000 Ontario Lassie at Woodbine in Toronto on Dec. 3. The Florida Oaks marked her first start on turf after four races on the Woodbine synthetic.
“I was a little concerned,” Casse said. “I kept saying to Mr. Oxley down the backside ‘They’re running too slow, they’re running too slow.’ I think for her to finish the way she did and win just shows how good she truly is. I know what she was thinking – I like to win. And she’s a winner.
“I had no idea if Dixie Strike could run on turf because she never had raced on it (all her races were on the Woodbine synthetic), but her breeding said she’d be fine,” Casse added. “They are both Canadian-breds, so they both have a big future in Canada. I think Dixie Strike could be a Kentucky Oaks filly. We’re going to have to map out a plan to get there.
“They won’t see each other for a while, unless it’s on a van.”
Oxley purchased both fillies, Dixie Strike as a yearling for $43,456 Canadian funds and Northern Passion as a 2-year-old in Ocala for $220,000. Now, it appears the sky is the limit for both.
“I had my fingers crossed because I think Dixie Strike is such a gorgeous filly and so well-bred,” Oxley said. “She ran up to her potential today. Our other filly, I think she had a little traffic trouble when she was moving into the far turn and I thought she might win. But we’ll take the win.”
Lezcano was visibly impressed by Dixie Strike’s closing flourish. “Man, that was some finish,” said the former Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey. “We were relaxed and in good position heading to the turn, so it was a matter of moving before some others came up on us. When we put in our run we got enough room to finish clean. All I had to do was keep her away from the others.
“It was really tight down the stretch, we all sprinted home so fast. I would love to ride this filly back anywhere, any time,” Lezcano said.
Leandro Goncalves, the rider on third-place finisher Regalo Mia, thought he might be a winner speeding down the stretch. “We got the first jump on the leaders,” Goncalves said. “She was so relaxed waiting for me, but you want to wait and make sure you have a run on the leaders in the stretch.
“She did everything but win running in tight like that and she was very brave. I was sure she would put in a late run and she did.”