by Mike Henry

Classic Causeway earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 84 in Saturday’s Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby victory, four weeks after receiving an 88 in winning the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes. His time of 1:44.90 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth on a track rated good after a morning drenching was more than a second slower than that of 4-year-old colt Scalding, who won the Grade III Michelob Ultra Challenger three races earlier.

Analysts and handicappers will assign varying degrees of importance to that information as Classic Causeway continues his march on the road to Louisville for the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs. It is worth noting that while Classic Causeway was in complete control throughout, Scalding was pushed to his utmost by Cody’s Wish, who finished a neck back.


Keeneland appears to be the next stop on Classic Causeway's journey to the biggest day in Thoroughbred racing May 7 (courtesy SV Photography)

The purpose here is not to denigrate the performance of Classic Causeway, the first horse since Destin in 2016 to win both Tampa Bay Downs showcase races for Triple Crown candidates, but to point out how opinions about top 3-year-olds proliferate in the spring like dandelions. As his trainer, Brian Lynch, pointed out, Classic Causeway’s time and speed numbers were likely impacted by other factors.

“There was a very strong headwind going up the backstretch, and he was geared down late (by jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., with the victory assured),” Lynch said this morning. “I thought his Beyer might have been a little higher, but he did it so nicely it’s not something I’m worried about.

“I really look forward to sitting down tonight and having a real good look at the replay. But visually, to my eyes, he ran a 110 Beyer.”

Classic Causeway earned 50 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points for the triumph, moving him into first place with 66 points in the competition to help determine the field of 20 for the Run for the Roses (the current top 30 are listed below).

The objective now is to have the son of Giant’s Causeway, out of the Thunder Gulch mare Private World, prepared to run his career-best race in eight weeks. Toward that end, Lynch says his final prep race will likely take place on April 9 at Keeneland in the Grade I, $1-million Toyota Blue Grass at a mile-and-an-eighth.

It’s an exciting time for Lynch and the colt’s breeders and owners, Patrick O’Keefe of Kentucky West Racing and Clarke Cooper, one in which they believe their hand is as strong as anyone else’s. “This is a place I’ve never been, and I’m going to enjoy it,” Lynch said. “I’m glad (Classic Causeway) is on my team and we’re not playing against him.”

Certainly, Classic Causeway had things his own way in both Tampa Bay Downs stakes (mostly due to excellent breaks from the gate), and his connections would love to see that continue. There is also a good chance that sometime soon, a rival if going to be just as keen about grabbing the lead when the gate opens, giving Classic Causeway another chance to prove himself as a horse that can rate off the pace and still come running late.

Here is what Lynch really likes.

“One of the difficult things with horses is to keep that ‘want-to’ in them, when you’re not forcing them as much to do it. He seems to have plenty of ‘want-to,’ ” Lynch said. “This colt is very good at what he does, and he looks so comfortable doing it. At every stage of the race, he looked like a winner.”

Ortiz – who has enjoyed a tremendous career over the last four weeks at Tampa Bay Downs, winning nine times from 18 mounts, including six stakes, three of them graded – also deserved plenty of credit for both of Classic Causeway’s victories.

There is no truth to the rumor Lynch plans to keep the rider under lock and key until Classic Causeway’s next start.

“He’s got a great set of hands and horses settle for him and respond when he calls for them,” Lynch said. “He is a very gifted, talented young man.”

Michael Maker, the trainer of Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Grantham, was proud of the colt’s effort, worth 20 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points. “He ran well, no doubt about it,” said Maker, who added that Grantham’s next start will likely come in the Blue Grass or the Grade III Kentucky Utilities Transylvania Stakes on the turf on April 8 at the Lexington track.

Shipsational ran well to finish third, following his second-place effort in the Sam F. Davis, and picked up 10 points. Trainer Edward Barker said the plan is to keep the New York-bred on the Kentucky Derby trail, with his next start in either the Grade I, $1-million Curlin Florida Derby on April 2 at Gulfstream Park or the Grade II, $750,000 Wood Memorial Presented by Resorts World Casino on April 9 at Aqueduct. With 14 points currently, it is highly probable Shipsational needs another top-three finish to be an automatic Kentucky Derby qualifier.

“Our horse ran a tremendous race – we just lost too much ground on the turns,” Barker said. “(Classic Causeway) is a very good horse, but he had it all his own way and we only got beat (2 ½ lengths). We’ll meet him again, I think.”

Here is a list of the current top-30 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points earners (ties are broken by non-restricted stakes earnings):

Classic Causeway, 66; Epicenter, 64; Un Ojo, 54; Simplification, 54; Forbidden Kingdom, 50; Morello, 50; Smile Happy, 30; Grantham, 21; Ethereal Road, 20; In Due Time, 20; Dean’s List, 20; Barber Road, 18; Pappacap, 14; Zandon, 14; Shipsational, 14; White Abarrio, 12; Mo Donegal, 12; Tiz the Bomb, 10; Rattle N Roll, 10; Slow Down Andy, 10; Major General, 10; Dash Attack, 10; Early Voting, 10; Call Me Midnight, 10; Courvoisier, 10; Happy Jack, 10; O Captain, 10; Golden Code, 10; Kavod, 7; Commandperformance, 6.

Around the oval. Leading Oldsmar jockey Samy Camacho rode three winners today, increasing his lead from Pablo Morales in the standings to 64-54. Camacho won the second race on Lyrical, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly bred and owned by Arindel. Scott Acker is the trainer.

Camacho won the fifth and sixth races back-to-back. He rode first-time starter Stony Point, a 4-year-old filly, to victory in a 5-furlong maiden turf event for owner Allen Stable and trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III, then triumphed aboard 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding Magical Warrior for leading Oldsmar trainer Gerald Bennett and his Winning Stables enterprise.

The sixth race was the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week.

Morales, rejecting the role of the Oldsmar oval’s Sisyphus in his determined chase of the defending champ, rode two winners. He won the first race on Glory Roll, a 6-year-old Florida-bred mare owned by Kelly’s Racing and trained by Jon Arnett. Morales added the ninth on the turf aboard Swift Kid, a 7-year-old gelding owned by Dale B. Wessels and trained by Antonio Machado.

Thoroughbred racing continues Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:14 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.