If Mark Casse had any doubts about Prospective fighting off Golden Ticket through the stretch run of the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday, his 3-year-old colt did an awesome job dispelling them.
Headed by Golden Ticket with a furlong to run, Prospective surged again under jockey Luis Contreras to post a ¾-length victory in 1:43.35 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth at Tampa Bay Downs, the second-fastest time in the race’s 32-year history. The only faster winning time was by Street Sense (1:43.11) in 2007.
“I rode him pretty hard,” Casse said jokingly, his voice hoarse from yelling. “Was I worried? Well, I wish he could have won by five. But was I worried? You know, he’s a fighter, and I didn’t really think anybody would beat him once he made the lead.”
Wearing blinkers for the first time, Prospective moved smoothly between Fox Rules and Spring Hill Farm approaching the final turn, overtook pace setter Cajun Charlie with ease and appeared as if he might cruise to victory.
But Golden Ticket, who broke his maiden in his previous outing at Gulfstream, cut the corner smoothly under jockey Manoel Cruz to make it a battle royale to the finish.
Prospective paid $8.20 to win as the third betting choice in the 11-horse field. Cozzetti ralled nicely to finish third by a ¾-length margin from the 11-5 favorite, Spring Hill Farm. Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Battle Hardened was sixth.
Also Saturday on Tampa Bay Downs Festival Day, Martin Schwartz’s 5-year-old mare Zagora made it 2-for-2 this season in Grade III turf races locally, powering to a one-and-three-quarter length victory from Federation in the 14th running of the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares.
Zagora, a Grade I winner trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Javier Castellano, had won the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes on Feb. 4. Her time Saturday for the about one-mile-and-an-eighth distance was 1:46.97, a stakes record for the nine-furlong distance. Zagora paid $3.60 as a heavy favorite in the nine-horse field.
In the 32nd running of the $100,000 Stonewall Farm Ocala Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Michael B. Tabor’s Wait Til Dawn affirmed her 6-5 odds by rolling through the stretch despite interference from runner-up Ciguaraya for a half-length victory. The winner’s time for the mile-and-40-yards was 1:40.58. Wait Til Dawn is trained by Todd Pletcher and was ridden by Castellano.
As exciting as the Stonewall Farm Ocala Suncoast Stakes and Hillsborough were, the Tampa Bay Derby was able to live up to its considerable billing, especially with Prospective looking so strong virtually every step of the way.
“He (Prospective) moved a little earlier than I expected, but I just tried to keep him quiet and save as much horse as I could for the stretch,” Contreras said. “The inside post really helped me a lot because I saved ground into the first turn.
“The pace was much faster than in the Sam F. Davis (in which Prospective finished second to Battle Hardened) and the blinkers seemed to make him more aggressive. Man, did he want to run today,” Contreras said. “But he let me keep him in hand when there was an opening between horses making the far turn. I asked him again entering the stretch and I thought we had it won, but then (Golden Ticket) came up inside us and he had to respond again.
“I kept hitting him with the left hand and he just kept going. He never quit.”
Prospective, a Kentucky-bred son of Malibu Moon-Spirited Away, by Awesome Again, is owned by John C. Oxley, who underwent hip surgery recently and was unable to attend the Tampa Bay Derby in person.
“He is doing very well and I’m sure he’s very happy and he’ll be fine for the next one,” said Casse, who indicated Prospective may be pointed toward the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct On April 7. “The Oxleys have stepped up and given me the opportunity to be able to go out and buy horses, so to be able to reward them with something like this is special.”
Casse said Prospective was a different, more mature horse than in the Davis. Now 4-for-7 lifetime, he made his victorious 2012 debut Jan. 14 at Tampa Bay Downs in the Pasco Stakes at seven furlongs.
“I was shocked he made the lead so early today, but with the blinkers he was much more aggressive,” Casse said. “He’s a character—he just does what he has to do.
“We put blinkers on to get him to focus a little more. When we watched him in the Sam F. Davis, he was running down the backside the entire way with his head cocked and he was kind of looking at things. Luis said about the 3/8-mile pole of the Davis he thought he was finished, but then when the horse came outside him he started running again. I said to Mr. Oxley, this (the blinkers) will get him a little closer in the early running and it worked,” Casse said.
Kenneth McPeek, the trainer of Golden Ticket, was pleased with the runner-up’s effort. “He ran really good,” McPeek said. “I like winning, though. I’m not sure what’s next—we’ll check out all our options and go from there. He lifted himself up in class today. Up until now, he’s been trying to figure it out. I think the two turns helped him and now that we’ve got him going longer, I think he’s a little bit better.”
Cruz rode Golden Ticket to his maiden triumph and had expected a strong performance Saturday from the son of Speightstown.
“I thought this guy was going to get good today,” Cruz said. “He had won his last real easily and that was why Mr. McPeek thought we might fit in here. When I saw (Prospective) making his move, I knew we would have to match him to win. I got an opening on the inside and we had the lead for a few strides, but the other guy was too tough today.”
Zagora’s connections have huge plans mapped out for the French-bred daughter of Green Tune-Zaneton, with a possible date in the fall in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
Starting 2012 at Tampa Bay Downs with back-to-back Grade III triumphs delighted trainer Chad Brown and vindicated his planning.
“The distance of the race and the timing of the races led us here,” Brown said. “Tampa has always had a great turf course and a safe turf course. All those factors went into it and she showed an affinity for it last year in the Hillsborough (while second by a neck to Denomination, who was fifth this time). There were a lot of factors that put Tampa on top of our list to get things started.”
“It’s likely she’ll be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup if she is healthy and doing well,” Brown added. “I normally like my turf horses to save ground, but I think Javier rode a smart race to stay out of trouble and keep her in the clear, knowing he was on the best horse.
“He got carried out a little on the final turn, but it wasn’t his fault as far as I could see. She still overcame it. She’s a pro. She’s just a little bit bigger, stronger and faster so should be tough to deal with. I thought she showed good turn of foot when he turned her loose.”
Both Brown and owner Martin Schwartz mentioned defending her 2011 victory in the Grade I Diana at Saratoga as a major goal.
“We’re very happy to be back here and get back to the winner’s circle,” Schwartz said. “Chad Brown is second to none. He is going to rewrite history along the way. I’d like to go to the Jenny Wiley (April 14 at Keeneland) and he’s slapping my hand. He likes to space things out and he’d like to win the Diana again. That’s our main goal with her.”
Wait Til Dawn won the Stonewall Farm Ocala Suncoast Stakes despite swerving through the stretch by runner-up Ciguaraya.
“I just saw it as a very rough-run race,” said Pletcher assistant Michael Dilger. “We’re glad she’s OK and we’re happy with the result. Both her mother (Path of Thunder, by Thunder Gulch) and her father (Giant’s Causeway) got better with age, and she seems to be doing the same. She overcame a lot today.”
“I knew she was the best before the race, but she really had to prove it out there,” Castellano said. “We were all pretty tight going to the first turn but she relaxed for me and we followed the leaders just off the rail. When I wanted to go through the final turn, there was no room so we waited and we were in tight again entering the stretch. When we got an opening we were carried out, but we were moving the best. She is something special and she proved it today.”
In Saturday’s sixth race, the Lambholm Race of the Week Overnight Handicap offering a $35,000 purse, 5-year-old gelding Action Andy rallied along the rail to post a length-and-a-half victory from 6-year-old Tommy’s Memory in a track-record time of 1:15.47 for six-and-a-half furlongs.
The previous track record of 1:16.04 was set Feb. 25 by White Merlot. The winner’s share of the purse raised Action Andy’s career earnings to $206,870.
The victory was the third in a row for Action Andy, a Maryland-bred son of Gators N Bears-Love Me Twice who is owned by Robert Gerczak and trained by Carlos Garcia. Danny Coa was the jockey. Earlier in the meeting, Action Andy won the $60,000 Pelican Stakes at six furlongs with Jesse Garcia aboard and the $75,000 Super Stakes at seven furlongs with Coa in the irons.
Action Andy has won seven of 22 lifetime starts. Carlos Garcia said he may run next March 31 in the Sir Shackleton Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
The victory for Coa was one of three on the 12-race card by the Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month award recipient. His two other triumphs came on horses trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott.
Coa won the first race, a maiden special weight contest for 3-year-olds at a mile-and-40-yards, aboard the Juddmonte Farms-owned colt Shipshape, who paid $35.40. His third victory came in the seventh race on Lewis Lakin’s maiden 3-year-old filly Spinning Wildcat, who edged Sister Earth in the final strides of the mile-and-a-sixteenth turf race.
Live racing resumes Sunday at Tampa Bay Downs with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m., which will appear to be 11:25 a.m. if you forget to set your clock ahead for Daylight Saving Time.