by Mike Henry

Ian Wilkes was confident in Champagne Calling’s ability to win today’s second race, a 7-furlong maiden special weight contest against five opponents. But the 3-year-old filly’s trainer sounded eager to resume her lessons after she posted a 2 ¼-length victory from Patience Worth in a time of 1:24.02.

“She looked a little green. She’s got some improvement to go,” Wilkes said. “She hadn’t run in (more than) six months and was a little rusty, but we think this filly is pretty talented.”

Antonio Gallardo rode Champagne Calling, a daughter of Empire Maker out of the Pulpit mare Escultura bred by Don Alberto Corporation. Wilkes purchased her at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale for $250,000 for owners Six Column Stables, Randall L. Bloch, Jim Gladden and Riverview Racing.

After a third-place finish in her career debut on June 17 at Churchill Downs, Champagne Calling had surgery to remove a chip from an ankle. She returned to training in early November and had turned in three excellent breezes at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach before today.

Despite a slow start, Wilkes liked the way Champagne Calling was traveling in today’s race and was impressed by her stretch run. “She was in hand with Antonio and responded to him asking her to go. He said the track was a little heavy, so that’s a good time.”

Champagne Calling paid $3.60 to win as the betting favorite.

Wilkes said Champagne Calling is bred to go longer, and he might try to prepare her for a return here on Feb. 11 in the $150,000, mile-and-40-yard Suncoast Stakes, where she could face NetJets Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and presumptive 2022 Eclipse Award Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Wonder Wheel.

“Maybe Wonder Wheel will have a headache,” Wilkes quipped.

The first four finishers in the Suncoast earn points toward qualifying for the Longines Kentucky Oaks on May 5 at Churchill Downs.

Around the oval. Jesus Castanon was a perfect 3-for-3 today, giving him 11 winners for the meet. All of his victories came on the turf. He won the third race aboard Bali Kuta, a 4-year-old filly owned by Jett North, LLC and trained by Kerri Raven. Castanon added the fifth, the Lambholm South Race of the Week, on Pike Place, a 3-year-old colt bred and owned by Godolphin and trained by Eoin Harty.

In the seventh race, Castanon and Lullaby Land benefited from a breakneck early pace from uncoupled stablemate Donya’s Magic to roll to victory. The 5-year-old Florida-bred mare Lullaby Land is owned by Karen Czerna and trained by Tony Wilson. Donya’s Magic faded to seventh.

Antonio Gallardo rode two winners. In addition to his victory on Champagne Calling, Gallardo won the ninth and final race on the turf with Classic Creation, a 3-year-old colt owned by Funbelly Stables and trained by John P. Terranova, II.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:32 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.