by Mike Henry

The likely fields for the first two graded stakes races of the meet have begun to take shape, Stakes Coordinator Gerry Stanislawzyk announced today.

Billed as “Turf Champions Day,” the Feb. 5 card is highlighted by a pair of Grade III, $175,000 events on the grass: the 36th edition of the Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward and the 23rd running of the Endeavour Stakes for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward. Both races will be run at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth.

Tampa Bay Downs-based trainer Arnaud Delacour, who won the Endeavour back-to-back with Hawksmoor in 2019 and Jehozacat in 2020 (both owned by Lael Stables), expects to take aim at his first Tampa Bay Stakes trophy with a pair of 6-year-olds who ran in last year’s renewal: owner Mark B. Grier’s horse Eons and the Lael Stables-owned gelding Talk Or Listen.

Eons finished second in last year’s Tampa Bay Stakes, three-quarters of a length behind winner Get Smokin, while Talk Or Listen was a fast-closing fourth in the 12-horse field.

“We thought this was a good race to bring them both back,” said Delacour, who breezed both horses 4 furlongs today in cold, windy conditions over the main Tampa Bay Downs dirt track. “We’re happy with the way they’ve been training, and it should be a very competitive race.

“There are a lot of things to like about entering them in that race. The timing is good as far as setting them up for the rest of the year, and they’ve both been training here, so they don’t have to ship in,” Delacour said. “The other thing is the quality of the (Tampa Bay Downs) turf course. It just seems like a good spot for them.”

Eons is a Grade III winner with career earnings of $429,785 while Talk Or Listen, who was bred in Ireland, is a Grade II-placed stakes winner with a career bankroll of $282,459.

“They are very similar horses, class-wise,” Delacour said. “I really can’t say one is better than the other.”

On the distaff side, south Florida-based trainer Chad Brown is expected to take two shots at capturing his fourth Endeavour Stakes victory since in 11 years. He won the race in 2012 with Zagora, who went on to earn an Eclipse Award as that year’s Champion Grass Mare, and added victories in 2015 with Testa Rossi and last year with Counterparty Risk.

Brown’s likely entrants are both owned by major client Peter M. Brant. Their 4-year-old filly In Italian, bred in Great Britain, is 2-for-3 lifetime, her most recent victory coming here on Jan. 12 in a 1-mile turf allowance in gate-to-wire fashion in a swift 1:34.64.

Brown and Brant’s other probable entrant, 4-year-old Bleecker Street, is 3-for-3, with victories at three different tracks. She made her 2022 debut here on Jan. 8, winning an allowance/optional claiming event on the turf in a fast 1:41.45 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth.

Other expected Endeavour entrants include 4-year-old filly Lady Speightspeare, who won a Sovereign Award as Canada’s Champion 2-Year-Old Filly in 2020 after winning the Grade I Natalma Stakes at Woodbine. After being off for almost a year, she returned better than ever last fall, winning the Grade II Bessarabian Stakes in a sizzling 1:21.03 for the 7 furlongs on Woodbine’s all-weather track.

Lady Speightspeare is owned by Charles Fipke and trained by Roger Attfield.

Other intended Endeavour runners are 4-year-old Oyster Box, the third-place finisher in last year’s Grade III Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, trained by H. Graham Motion; stakes winner Morning Molly, who finished second in last year’s Grade II Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, trained by Tom Proctor; stakes winner Jezebel’s Kitten, trained by Christopher Davis; Stunning Princess, from the barn of Danny Gargan; Katama Moonlight, trained by Saffie Joseph, Jr.; and Pythoness, trained by Michael B. Campbell.

Motion won the Endeavour in 2014 with Cloud Scapes and in 2011 with Silver Reunion.

Back to the Tampa Bay Stakes, in which a pair of Grade III winners, 6-year-old horse English Bee and 5-year-old horse Shirl’s Speight, are among those expected to join Eons and Talk Or Listen in the starting gate.

English Bee, bred and owned by Calumet Farm and trained by Motion, finished third in his most recent start, the Grade II Ft. Lauderdale Stakes on Dec. 18 at Gulfstream. As a 3-year-old, English Bee won the Grade III New Kent County Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs.

Shirl’s Speight’s graded score came in 2020 as a 3-year-old in the Grade III Marine Stakes at Woodbine. In his most recent effort, he won a mile-and-a-sixteenth allowance/optional claiming race here on the turf on Jan. 15. Attfield trains Shirl’s Speight for owner Fipke.

Also expected are Carpenters Call, out of the barn of leading Oldsmar trainer Gerald Bennett; Call Curt, trained by Juan Carlos Avila; Fly Like an Eagle, trained by Tom Albertrani; and one or two others, Stanislawzyk said.

Around the oval. Thoroughbred racing continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:15 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 17, when the track is closed.

Otherwise, the Oldsmar oval is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.