Horses such as Classic Causeway, the authoritative winner of the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes here on Feb. 12 and Grade I and Grade II-placed as a 2-year-old, don’t come along every day.
Neither does the chance to upset such a talent for the lion’s share of a $400,000 purse – not to mention coveted “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points.
Those facts have combined to create a 12-horse field of 3-year-olds for Saturday’s Grade II, mile-and-a-sixteenth Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, the centerpiece of a Festival Day 42 card offering five stakes races, four graded, worth a combined $1-million in purse money.
The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is the 11th race on the card, with a scheduled post time of 5:23 p.m. The first of 12 races is at 12:15 p.m.
The exceptional lineup also consists of the Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf, which is the seventh race; the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf, which is the ninth; the Grade III, $100,000 Michelob Ultra Challenger Stakes for horses 4-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track, which is the eighth; and the $75,000 Columbia Stakes, for 3-year-olds going a mile on the turf, which is the 10th race.
Classic Causeway, who is expected to be the wagering favorite, drew the No. 4 post position for the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. Irad Ortiz, Jr., who was aboard for his Sam F. Davis Stakes victory, will again ride Classic Causeway for owners Kentucky West Racing, LLC and Clarke M. Cooper and trainer Brian Lynch.
The top four finishers will receive 50, 20, 10 and 5 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs. Classic Causeway is 11th in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” standings with 16 points.
One of the largest crowds in track history is expected Saturday. The 12-race card begins at noon, with gates opening at 10 a.m. General-admission tickets are $15, with the first 5,000 fans through the gates receiving a ”Mystery Mutuel Voucher” worth from $5-$1,000, with paid admission.
Among Classic Causeway’s Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby rivals are Giant Game, the third-place finisher in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar, trained by Dale Romans and to be ridden by Joe Talamo from the No. 5 post; Major General, winner of the Grade III Iroquois Stakes on Sept. 18 at Churchill Downs in his most recent start, trained by five-time Tampa Bay Derby-winning conditioner Todd Pletcher, with Javier Castellano named to ride from the No. 8 post; and two-time stakes winner and Sam F. Davis runner-up Shipsational, trained by Edward Barker, with Manuel Franco aboard from the No. 9 post.
Nine horses are entered in the Hillsborough, in which a highly anticipated rematch is slated between 4-year-old fillies Bleecker Street (4-for-4) and Lady Speightspeare, the 1-2 finishers in the Grade III Endeavour Stakes here on Feb. 5. Bleecker Street is trained by Chad Brown, who is tied with Pletcher for most Hillsborough victories with four apiece.
Bleecker Street will be ridden by Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr., the only jockey she has known. Lady Speightspeare, a Grade I winner as a 2-year-old, is trained by Roger Attfield and has the services of Emma-Jayne Wilson, her only rider in six career starts.
Nine horses are entered in the Florida Oaks, with trainer Mark Casse’s Mrs. Barbara and H. Graham Motion’s Ambitieuse among the top contenders. Mrs. Barbara, who will be ridden by Rafael Manuel Hernandez, won the Grade III Mazarine Stakes on Nov. 28 on the all-weather track at Woodbine in her most recent start, while Ambitieuse, whose jockey will be Franco, was second in the Grade III Sweetest Chant Stakes on Feb. 5 at Gulfstream Park.
Also a strong contender is Alittleloveandluck, with Paco Lopez riding for trainer Mike Dini. She won the Ginger Brew Stakes on Jan. 1 on the turf at Gulfstream and was second in last month’s Suncoast Stakes here on the main track.
A field of 10 older horses is expected for the Challenger Stakes. The seemingly omnipresent Pletcher has won the Challenger four times, including in 2017 with track record-holder Stanford, and he will send two out this year: 4-year-old Dynamic One, to be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., and 5-year-old War Stopper, who was third in last year’s Challenger, to be ridden by Franco.
Also of considerable intrigue are Attfield’s 5-year-old horse Shirl’s Speight, who won the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes here on the turf on Feb. 5, with Wilson aboard; trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III’s 4-year-old colt Greatest Honour, who won last year’s Grade II Fountain of Youth and Grade III Holy Bull, to be ridden by Jose Ortiz; and Cody’s Wish, who is riding a three-race winning streak for trainer Bill Mott, with Luis Saez riding.
There are 10 sophomore colts and geldings entered in the Columbia. Among the top contenders are the Lynch-trained Gingrich, with Saez named to ride, and Kitten Mischief, switching to turf after an eighth-place finish in the Sam F. Davis, trained by Jonathan Thomas, with Franco in the irons.
Experts to weigh in Saturday morning. A round table of Thoroughbred insiders will discuss their selections for the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, the Grade II Hillsborough Stakes and the Grade III Florida Oaks beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.
The panel for the “Festival Day 42 Stakes Preview” show will consist of Jason Beem, the track announcer; Tampa Bay Downs handicapper-analyst Ren Carothers; the Oldsmar oval’s Spanish-language race analyst Luis Ocasio; and public handicapper-horseplayer Barry “Sniper” Spears.
The show will be available in real time on all ADW (advance-deposit wagering) sites, as well as the track’s YouTube, Twitter and Facebook Live feeds. It will also be broadcast live on the track’s closed-circuit feed. Gates open at 10 a.m.
Around the oval. Ademar Santos rode three winners today. He won the third race on Brass Band, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Dale Carrington and Arthur O. Agostini and trained by Steven Dye. Santos next won the sixth race on 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding Fortunate Friends for owners Juan Arriagada and Robert M. Bosso, with Arriagada training. Fortunate Friends was claimed from the race for $6,250 by trainer Benny Feliciano for new owner MCR Stable.
Santos closed his performance by capturing the ninth race on the turf on Twelve Red Roses, a 5-year-old mare owned by Banks Racing and trained by Chris Banks.
Dye sent out two winners. In addition to Brass Band, Dye won the first race with Tee Up, a 7-year-old mare owned by Jack Cannon and ridden by Wilmer Garcia.
Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr., rode two winners. He captured the fourth race on Lord Berrier, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by DiBello Racing and trained by Kathleen O’Connell. Diaz added the eighth race with East Wing, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Lambholm Stable, Ella Felcher and Preferred Pals Stable and trained by Roy Lerman.
In today’s second race, French-bred 4-year-old gelding Chez Pierre surged in the closing strides to edge Drama Chorus by a neck in a 1-mile allowance/$75,000 optional claiming race for older horses on the turf. Chez Pierre, whose last race was a victory at Chantilly in France in May, improved to 4-for-4 for his career. He was ridden by Daniel Centeno and is owned by Lael Stables and trained by Arnaud Delacour. Chez Pierre’s time of 1:34.12 was .89 seconds off the course record.
Thoroughbred racing continues Friday 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.
Traffic advisories along State Road 580 take effect Saturday. Pinellas County Utilities will start repairs on a leaking 48-inch water main beneath the westbound lanes of State Road 580, just west of County Road 611 (McMullen Booth Road), beginning Saturday. The project is expected to continue through April 3.
Eastbound lanes of State Road 580 will remain open, but motorists are encouraged to avoid the area if possible. Motorists can sign up for project alerts by texting “SR580” to 888-777. For more information, visit the project website at http://pinellascounty.org/utilities/projects/sr580water.htm