BLEECKER STREET STAYS UNBEATEN; SHIRL’S SPEIGHT RALLIES UNDER WILSON

by Mike Henry

After being victimized by Bleecker Street’s whirlwind rally in the Grade III, $175,000 Endeavour Stakes for fillies and mares on the turf, Emma-Jayne Wilson – the jockey on beaten favorite Lady Speightspeare – was ready to turn the tables on someone.

Two races later, in the Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for males on the turf, Wilson set Lady Speightspeare’s stablemate Shirl’s Speight loose in the stretch, and the 5-year-old horse responded by running down the race’s defending champion, pace-setter Get Smokin, by a length-and-a-half.

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Shirl's Speight and jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson put away defending champion Get Smokin in the Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes

“That’s horse racing, in a nutshell,” Wilson said after 9-1 shot Shirl’s Speight’s victory for breeder-owner Charles Fipke and trainer Roger Attfield in 1:41.20 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth. “There are many ups and downs, and you’ve just got to ride the wave.

“When good horses come around, they’ll show their stuff when the time is right.”

The two stakes races were the centerpiece of a spellbinding “Turf Champions Day” card under overcast skies that resulted in long-shots aplenty visiting the winner’s circle (including Bleecker Street and Shirl’s Speight, although their payoffs were minuscule in comparison to several others).

In the 23rd running of the Endeavour, the sixth race on the card, Wilson was sitting pretty on the lead on Lady Speightspeare at the 1/8-mile pole when unbeaten 4-year-old filly Bleecker Street – whose previous victory here on Jan. 8 came in a conditional allowance/optional claiming event – showed her stuff and then some, accelerating from mid-pack under jockey Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr., for a convincing length-and-a-half triumph.

The victory was the first graded-stakes triumph for the 32-year-old Diaz, who might feel like he’s uncovered the key to buried treasure after trainer Chad Brown stuck with him following his three previous victories aboard Bleecker Street.

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Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr., senses victory is imminent on rising star Bleecker Street in the Grade III, $175,000 Endeavour Stakes

“She never gave me that turn of foot before,” Diaz said of today’s performance by the Peter M. Brant-owned filly, now 4-for-4. “Not like that. Today was her best race, by far. The effort she put in was great. I have to thank God and Chad and his entire crew for this opportunity. They’ve done an amazing job with this filly. I knew she had to prove herself today against these kind of horses, but I was confident she could do it.

“I saw that green light in the stretch and she just took off, and the rest is history.”

The victory was the fourth in the Endeavour’s 23-year history for Brown, more than any other conditioner. Bleecker Street posted a time of 1:41.91 on the firm turf course.

“She has won all four times coming off the pace, and being able to work out a trip like that every time is very difficult to do,” Brown said via telephone. “He (Diaz) has ridden her all four times, and I’m very proud of him.

“She had a good post (No. 2), the trip worked out real well and she showed a super turn of foot through the stretch. This filly took time to come around, and my whole staff has done an unbelievable job with her. And Mr. Brant is so patient. We scratched In Italian from the race this morning because we thought bringing her back inside a month was a little soon for her, and we didn’t want to run them against each other.

“She (Bleecker Street) stepped up and it turned out to be the right call,” added Brown, who later won the Grade III Withers for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct with Early Voting.

Wilson was disappointed to get beat, but offered no excuses. “Chad’s horses have a tendency of doing that to you,” Wilson said. ”I wouldn’t give (Lady Speightspeare) any excuses. She had everything go as well as it could. We had a good run at it – we were just second-best.”

Stunning Princess finished third and Jezebel’s Kitten was fourth. Bleecker Street paid $16 to win.

The way Get Smokin was sailing along under jockey Antonio Gallardo in the Tampa Bay Stakes, it appeared everyone was running for second at the top of the lane. The 5-year-old gelding hadn’t been asked much approaching the stretch in his first start since June 20, but Wilson sensed she was sitting on a powder keg.

“I was interested to see how the pace was going to set up,” Wilson said of Shirl’s Speight’s performance. “Last time (a Jan. 15 victory here under Gallardo in an allowance/optional claiming race), he was a little keen, but today he settled off the pace nice and the way they kind of ran away from him early, I just wanted to make sure he relaxed and got into position where he was comfortable.”

Reserved near mid-pack, Shirl’s Speight was asked for his best when Wilson tipped him out wide and kept to his task to record his second lifetime Grade III victory. Floriform finished third and English Bee was fourth.

“I had to thread the needle a little down the lane, but good horses will overcome adversity and he shot through there like he was shot out of a cannon,” Wilson said. “Roger is a Hall of Famer, and he knows how to have them primed and ready.”

Attfield, in fact, is a member of both the U.S. and Canadian Horse Racing Halls of Fame, a status shared by Get Smokin’s trainer, Mark Casse. “We’ve lost a lot to Roger. He’s a wonderful guy and a class act, and good for him,” Casse said.

Attfield had both of his horses ready for top efforts and was thrilled to come away with a victory and a second.

“It (the Tampa Bay Stakes) was a beautiful race, no question,” he said. “I liked the way he did it today – I don’t really want him to be speed all the time, but he’s got a lot of speed. (Wilson) rode him very well. I definitely thought (Get Smokin) was the horse to beat.

“And our filly (Lady Speightspeare) ran very well for everything she has been through, so it’s been a good day.”

Around the oval. The cloudy weather and cool temperatures kept the crowd down to 3,447, but did not stop fans from wagering more than $9.5-million on the 10-race card. No one hit the late 50-cent Pick-5, creating a carryover pool of $92,712 into Sunday’s late Pick-5.

Thoroughbred racing continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:13 p.m. Sunday is also the first of the track’s “Mouse’s Kids & Family Days,” with families welcome to hang out in the Backyard Picnic Area throughout the day if the weather is suitable. Also weather permitting, fans will get to meet the track mascot, Mouse the Miniature Horse, and kids can enjoy bounce houses and a variety of games and special activities.

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.

“Live It Up Challenge” starts Feb. 12. The “Live It Up Challenge” Handicapping Contest begins Saturday, Feb. 12 – Festival Preview Day – with a rules change designed to place even more emphasis on handicapping skill.

The free-to-enter online competition will require players to select a horse in two of each day’s three “Challenge Races,” which will be selected by contest officials. In previous years, players selected a horse in one of two designated “Challenge Races.”

All wagers are mythical. Scores, or bankrolls, will be determined on the basis of $2 mythical win-place-show wagers on each participant’s selections. Any race when a player’s choice finishes off-the-board, or the player does not make a selection for any reason, results in the loss of a ‘lifeline.” Players losing all their lifelines are eliminated from further participation, although they are still eligible for the $500 bonus prize for overall most winners.

All entrants begin the contest with one free lifeline. Players may purchase eight additional lifelines for $5 each upon signup, eight more on Feb. 25 for $10 each and four more on March 11 for $25 each.

The contest runs through March 27, which is Florida Cup Day, enhancing the potential for a dramatic finish. Players must register by 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 12. To do so, go to www.liveitupchallenge.com on the Internet.

The first-place winner will receive two seats for the 2023 High Rollers Handicapping Contest at Tampa Bay Downs next January (a $2,000 value). The second-through-fourth-place finishers will receive one seat apiece, a $1,000 equivalency.

The player selecting the most winners throughout the contest’s duration, as mentioned, receives $500.

For additional details, contact Margo Flynn, the track’s Vice President of Marketing & Publicity, at (813) 855-4401, extension 1368.