CLASSIC CAUSEWAY LIVES UP TO HYPE, CREATES MORE WITH SAM F. DAVIS SCORE; ONE OF 5 WINS FOR IRAD ORTIZ, JR., INCLUDING SUNCOAST WITH NEST

by Mike Henry, Lynne Snierson

As well as Classic Causeway was training leading up to the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, trainer Brian Lynch still had cause for concern after his colt was pressed through an opening quarter-mile of 22.66 seconds by long-shot Little Vic.

“The fractions (including a half-mile of 46.67 seconds) had me a little bit worried,” Lynch said after Classic Causeway rolled to a 3 ¾-length victory from the late-running Shipsational, with Volcanic third and Strike Hard fourth in the 12-horse field.

“But his body language, the way his ears were twitching down the backside, gave me the feeling (jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.) had plenty of horse,” Lynch said.

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Tactical speed, endurance enable Classic Causeway to soak up the crowd's cheers during the latter stages of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (courtesy SV Photography)

Did he ever. Classic Causeway finished the 42nd edition of the mile-and-a-sixteenth “Road to the Kentucky Derby” contest with strong energy, competing the mile-and-a-sixteenth in 1:42.80 on the fast track, .36 seconds off Flameaway’s 2018 stakes record.

Classic Causeway paid $5.20 to win as the heavy betting favorite.

An on-track crowd of 4,443 contributed to a total all-sources handle figure of $12,129,778.12.

The 29-year-old Ortiz, regarded by many racing authorities as one of the world’s top-five jockeys, if not No. 1, won three of the four stakes races on the card and five races overall. Despite being pressured by Little Vic, Ortiz said Classic Causeway felt comfortable throughout.

“I was getting pushed by the speed horse, but my horse is fast, too,” Ortiz said. “He was traveling perfect and I didn’t want to take too much out of him and take him back too much.

“He broke good, so I just let him be free out there. I knew I had horse under me the whole time. Brian did a great job bringing him up to the race.”

Little Vic tired late, finishing seventh. Shipsational – who has been training at Tampa Bay Downs since December – ran on well to grab the runner-up spot.

“I like my horse and the way he did it,” said jockey Javier Castellano. “Today was the first time he had to come from way back, and he finished really well. I’m very satisfied with the way he ran and what he did today.”

Trainer Eddie Barker said the New York-bred Shipsational is likely to train up to the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 12.

“I thought he ran giant,” Barker said. “There were a lot of question marks going in – whether he could get the distance, whether he could get two turns, and it was his first time going against open company. He was training like a real professional for the last five weeks.

“I’m staying right here for (the Tampa Bay Derby),” Barker said. “If we get lucky enough in there, then we’ve got enough points to go where we want. I think he’s the real deal – I am tickled pink.”

Today’s victory was the second in four starts for Classic Causeway, who finished third in the Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and second in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club last fall. The Sam F. Davis was his first race in 11 weeks.

Owned by Patrick O’Keefe’s Kentucky West Racing and Clarke M. Cooper, Classic Causeway earned 10 points for the Sam F. Davis triumph, giving him 16 points toward qualifying for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. He earned $120,000 for the victory, raising his career bankroll to $301,100.

Lynch was noncommittal about Classic Causeway’s next start, but suggested the four weeks between the Sam F. Davis and the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is manageable.

“He showed up today. We always thought he has obvious quality, and he took the step he needed to keep the dream alive,” Lynch said. “The way he won today, I don’t think he was taxed. He was geared down late, and I think he’ll really move forward off this race.”

Classic Causeway is a son of Giant’s Causeway out of the Thunder Gulch mare Private World, breeding that should enable him to thrive at distances beyond the Sam F. Davis route.

Here is a look at today’s other stakes:

Suncoast Stakes. Nest gave her connections and many in the crowed what they were hoping for, moving to the lead fairly effortlessly on the turn for home and continuing on with strong energy to defeat Alittleloveandluck by 6 lengths in the 42nd edition of the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes.

The daughter of Curlin, out of the A.P. Indy mare Marion Ravenwood, set a stakes record for the mile-and-40-yard distance of 1:39.30, .06 faster than Vaulcluse’s 2008 time. The track record is 1:38.68, set in 2021 by Downtowner.

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Suncoast Stakes winner Nest and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., might strike a similar pose in future races, if her record-breaking performance indicates her potential (courtesy SV Photography)

Irad Ortiz, Jr., rode Nest, the jockey’s second consecutive stakes victory and fourth on the card. She paid $2.60 to win as a huge favorite in the seven-horse field. Blamethechampagne finished third and Ha’ Penny was fourth.

Nest improved to 3-for-4 in her first start since winning the Grade II Demoiselle Stakes on Dec. 4 at Aqueduct. She earned $60,000 for the victory. Nest is owned by Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House and trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher.

“She made it look easy,” Ortiz said. “I was in a great position in the first turn, and after that I just sat on her and enjoyed the ride. I just let her go all the way through the stretch.”

Pletcher, who watched the race from south Florida, texted his delight after the race. “We’re all very pleased with her performance,” he said. “She did it professionally and seemed to finish with good energy. We’re very excited. She should improve with time and distance.”

The Suncoast Stakes is a “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points race, awarding 10 points to the winner toward qualifying for the May 6 showcase at Churchill Downs and 4-2-1 to the next three finishers. Nest has been nominated to the Triple Crown, meaning her connections might have grandiose ambitions of running her against the boys in one of those classics.

“We haven’t even thought about that,” said Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. “Right now, we’ll just enjoy this and hope she takes the next step.”

That could be the Grade I Central Bank Ashland Stakes on April 8 at Keeneland, which would lead into the Kentucky Oaks.

“I have a great group of partners here and we’re all so excited,” Wellman said. “Irad made a brilliant move popping her out of the first turn between horses and getting her out in the clear, and after that we could take a deep breath and let her enjoy herself out there.”

Pelican Stakes. Another dramatic finish ensued in the 38th running of the $100,000 Pelican Stakes, with 5-year-old New York-bred Bank On Shea rallying from far back and showing his fortitude during a riveting stretch duel with 3-5 favorite Baby Yoda to post a neck victory. Irad Ortiz, Jr., rode Bank On Shea, who was making his second start since last April.

Ortiz’s brother, Jose Ortiz, rode the Bill Mott-trained Baby Yoda, who had finished second in his previous start, the Grade I Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita.

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Bank On Shea, inside, edges away from favorite Baby Yoda in the final strides of the Pelican (courtesy SV Photography)

“The favorite (Baby Yoda) broke a step slow and I think that was the key,” said Irad Ortiz, Jr., whose excellence keeps him poised to take advantage of such minute missteps. “It looked like (Jose Ortiz) had to use him a little bit, so I was watching them in front of me.

“The only way I could probably beat him was to save ground at the rear, so that’s what I did and it worked out good. I rode this horse a couple of times in New York and he always tries hard. He gives me his best every time I ride him.”

Bank On Shea is owned by Shea D Boy’s Stable and trained by Carlos A. David, who also won last year’s Pelican Stakes with Zenden.

“Irad did a good job settling him down behind the speed and running down (Baby Yoda),” David said. “He’s a good-sized, strong horse, and I was really impressed by his effort.”

Now 5-for-8, Bank On Shea has won three stakes, but this was his first in open company, the first two coming in restricted New York stakes. He is a son of Central Banker out of the Uncle Mo mare Miss Moultree.

Bank On Shea paid $9.60 to win. His time of 1:09.61 for the 6-furlong distance was .47 seconds off Action Andy’s 2013 stakes record. Pudding finished a non-threatening third in the seven-horse field.

First-place money of $45,000 raised Bank On Shea’s career bankroll to $497,750.

Minaret Stakes. After falling when his mount in the second race suffered a catastrophic injury, Antonio Gallardo’s status for the remainder of the card was uncertain. “I took off for two races to see how I was feeling,” Gallardo said. “And I said, you know what, I have to keep going. It’s the only way.”

Gallardo’s tenacity was rewarded in his second race after the incident, the 41st running of the $50,000 Minaret Stakes, when he rallied 5-year-old mare Drop a Hint from off the pace to score a neck victory from My Destiny. Both mares are owned by Sam Wilensky and trained by his father, Herman Wilensky.

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Drop a Hint, outside, ends her career with a coveted stakes victory under jockey Antonio Gallardo (courtesy SV Photography)

It was the first career stakes victory for Drop a Hint, who is being retired to be bred to leading sire Tapit. The Grade II-placed daughter of Into Mischief, out of Allude, by Orientate, finishes her career with three victories from 20 starts.

“I thought she’d be sitting a little closer early, but Antonio did a great job,” said Herman Wilensky. “I told him before the race to just get her to relax, and then it was up to him. A dead-heat would have been better, but I’ll take this.”

Drop a Hint’s time for the 6-furlong distance was 1:10.48. She paid $14 to win. Feeling Mischief finished third, 2 ¼ lengths behind My Destiny.

Gallardo’s mount in the second, 4-year-old filly Cielo d’Oro, was humanely euthanized due to the severity of her injury. Gallardo was required to sit out at least one race and pass concussion protocol before being cleared to resume rising.

“You have to turn the page. This filly was doing really well, she was fit and when I saw the other horses (My Destiny and fourth-place finisher Tap Dance Fever) fighting on the lead, I knew I had a chance,” he said.

Edwin Gonzalez, the jockey on My Destiny, offered no excuses. “My filly tried hard. We were fighting,” he said. “She gave me everything she had.”

Thoroughbred racing continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:13 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.