Owner John C. Oxley and trainer Mark Casse took several days after Prospective’s lackluster sixth-place finish in the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes to decide whether to enter the 3-year-old colt in the Kentucky Derby.
Oxley won the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos and captured the Kentucky Oaks with Gal in a Ruckus in 1995, the same year he ran both Jambalaya Jazz and Pyramid Peak in the Derby. Oxley and his wife Debby also campaigned 1999 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Beautiful Pleasure.
Casse has saddled only one Kentucky Derby starter – Seaside Retreat, who finished 10th in the 2006 running – but has enjoyed tremendous success over the years, winning four Sovereign Awards as Canada’s best trainer in addition to numerous Grade I stakes.
So neither Oxley nor Casse was inclined to enter the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby winner at Churchill Downs on May 5 just to be part of the spectacle. And with the likes of Union Rags, Hansen, Creative Cause, Bodemeister, Gemologist and Dullahan set to compete, the choice was not one to make lightly.
“Mr. Oxley and I have a wonderful relationship. We discussed everything, took a few days and weighed all the positives and negatives. Just to run in the Derby was not that appealing,” Casse said from Orlando on Friday morning before boarding a flight to Louisville, where he plans to oversee Prospective breeze five furlongs Saturday morning.
“In his mind, he wanted to think (Prospective) has a legitimate chance. After talking it through, we both feel the positives outweigh the negatives,” Casse said of the decision to run.
Tampa Bay Downs bettors can wager on Prospective and their other Kentucky Derby choices beginning Friday, May 4, when advance betting for the 138th edition of the world’s most famous horse race opens. Tampa Bay Downs will conduct a full card of live racing May 5 leading to the 6:24 p.m. post time for the Derby. The gates will open at 10 a.m.
Tampa Bay Downs will also offer simulcast wagering on the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, May 4, for the nation’s leading 3-year-old fillies, in addition to its live program.
Prospective, a Kentucky-bred son of Malibu Moon-Spirited Away, by Awesome Again, will attempt to become the third horse in six years to use the Tampa Bay Derby as a stepping stone to Churchill Downs glory. Street Sense won the 2007 Tampa Bay Derby before capturing the Run for the Roses, and Super Saver was third in the 2010 Tampa Bay Derby as a prelude to winning the classic.
On paper, Prospective’s path to Louisville is similar to that of Musket Man in 2009. Both won the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs to begin their 3-year-old seasons. Musket Man finished third in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, while Prospective was second to Battle Hardened in the Grade III event.
Musket Man rebounded to win the Tampa Bay Derby before finishing third in the Kentucky Derby behind Mine That Bird and Pioneerof The Nile. Musket Man was also third in the Preakness.
Prospective won the mile-and-a-sixteenth Tampa Bay Derby in 1:43.35, the second-fastest time in race history.
Luis Contreras, who won the Sovereign Award as Canada’s top jockey in 2011 but is relatively unknown in the United States, will again be aboard Prospective in the Kentucky Derby. A full field of 20 is expected to compete.
“Obviously there is not a whole lot expected of us, and that’s OK,” Casse said. “This is a horse race, not a show, and it will be decided on the track. I think the five weeks between the Tampa Bay Derby and the Blue Grass was too much time for him between races, and I think he will be a lot better horse for the Derby.
“Will that be good enough? I don’t know. But if you’re not in it, you can’t win it,” said Casse, who participated this week in the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s Spring 2-Year-Old Sale before heading to Kentucky.
Casse said before the Blue Grass he thought Prospective preferred running on dirt to a synthetic surface, but he was still disappointed by the result on Keeneland’s Polytrack. Prospective broke flat-footed, got checked on the clubhouse turn and was blocked briefly by a tiring Hero of Order on the backstretch.
His stretch bid seemed to falter quickly after it began, but he finished within six-and-a-half lengths of Dullahan despite “two or three lengths of trouble” and within about five lengths of runner-up Hansen.
Casse said Prospective loves training at Churchill Downs, where he has been stabled since departing Tampa Bay Downs after the March 10 Tampa Bay Derby. That might sound odd on the surface, since Prospective finished 13th and last in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November at Churchill, but Casse is counting on a home-court advantage nonetheless.
“I don’t have a real good explanation for the Juvenile,” Casse said. “But he had trained on dirt only about 10 days before the Juvenile (after winning the Grade III Grey Stakes on Woodbine’s synthetic course Oct. 9), and I find it very difficult for horses to go from synthetic to dirt. In fact, the past four or five years at Tampa Bay Downs have been pitiful when I’ve tried it. It was also a deep and tiring track at Churchill that day and he came back to the barn with mud just caked on him.
“I’ve been training horses at Churchill Downs since I was 18, and I can tell when horses like Churchill and when they don’t. He loves Churchill,” Casse said. “He hasn’t trained on synthetic since November. We had him at Palm Meadows (in Boynton Beach, Fla.) this winter because I thought if he were going to be competitive, he needed to train on dirt.”
Oxley and Casse will be represented Saturday in the Grade III, $200,000 The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial Stakes for 3-year-olds, the opening night feature at Churchill Downs. Their Kentucky-bred Stealcase will be ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan. Also entered is Mike Tarp’s colt Tarpy’s Goal, who won the $75,000 Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on April 7. The Dale Romans trainee will be ridden by Leandro Goncalves.
Casse said Oxley’s 3-year-old filly Dixie Strike, who won the Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 4, is being pointed toward the Grade III Selene Stakes at Woodbine on May 13. Their Northern Passion, who was beaten by less than a length while finishing fourth in the Florida Oaks, is entered in Sunday’s $150,000 Fury Stakes at Woodbine for registered Ontario-breds.
Jockey Angel Serpa rode two winners on Friday’s card to move into a tie for second in the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings with Ronnie Allen, Jr. at 69 apiece. They are 19 behind Leandro Goncalves, who is riding now at Indiana Downs and in Kentucky.
Serpa won the first race, a mile-and-40-yard claiming event for fillies and mares, with a well-timed, off-the-pace effort aboard Geraldine’sthunder for owner Another Step Stable and trainer Peter Wasiluk, Jr. In the third race, a six-furlong claiming affair, Serpa piloted 4-year-old filly Queen of the Nile to her second consecutive win for owner John Banner and trainer Jane Cibelli.
Allen, last year’s track champion, kept pace for the runner-up spot by winning the sixth race for maidens at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf on first-time starter Daughterofthemoon, a 3-year-old filly owned by Alan Porter and James Scatuorchio and trained by Jonathan Thomas.
Trainer Reid Nagle sent out two winners Friday under his Big Lick Farm banner, giving him four over the past two racing days. Nagle won the second race for maiden claimers with his 4-year-old filly Lyr. Huber Villa-Gomez was aboard. In the 10th race, a mile turf event for maiden claimers, jockey Luis Gonzalez and 3-year-old filly Bella Promessa rewarded Nagle and backers to the tune of $35.60.
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Saturday with an 11-race card. Post time for the first race is 12:40 p.m. Additional live cards to conclude the 2011-12 Thoroughbred racing season are scheduled Sunday and May 4-6, inclusive.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.