In less than two weeks, Blinkers Off will hit the road to Tampa Bay!
No…not for good, only for a few days.
I will be heading down to Tampa Bay from February 11 through 14 for Sam F. Davis weekend. Nominations have come out forr that Saturday’s four stakes races, as well as a prep handicap for the Challenger Stakes later in the meet. With those out, it finally seems real, since I can zero in on horses I’m excited to see.
The race I am most looking forward to is the Endeavour Stakes (GIII). Lovely Loyree is nominated. She is 2014’s Illinois Champion Three Year Old Filly, a stakes winner in Illinois, and finished a strong second in the prep allowance for the Endeavour. She is also a lot of fun to hang out with in the barns. I do not know for sure yet whether she will go, but if she does, it would be a thrill to see her graded stakes debut in person. Also exciting among the Endeavour nominees is Tepin, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile winner, and last year’s Eclipse winner for Champion Turf Female. I have seen Tepin in person once before, for the Distaff Turf Mile, but did not get any good pictures of her. Hopefully that changes a week from Saturday. Tepin seems clearly pointed for this race, and will be tough for any of the nominees to beat. The nominees also include two others who I have seen run around Chicago. 2015 Modesty Handicap (GIII) winner Walk Close has been nominated, as has Arlington maiden winner and recent Hawthorne allowance winner Innovative Idea.
Word came out over the weekend that Airoforce got a bit stuffy after a work over the weekend, and will not show up in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (GIII). However, I have my fingers crossed for a few familiar locals. Illinois-bred Yo Carm dismantled an N1X field at Tampa Bay at a mile and forty yards over the main. He is nominated to take his first step up to stakes company. Another horse bred in the Land of Lincoln, Richie the Bull, also sees his blinkers tossed into the ring. He was third in the Swale last out, which would only give him two weeks off, but his connections are at least considering the idea. Though Brerry was not bred in Illinois, he is also familiar from the local circuit. He broke his maiden in October over the Hawthorne grass. It is interesting to see him nominated for this dirt race, though, since his two wins have both come on grass. Perhaps the two-turn distance of the Davis will suit him better than his dirt try in the Inaugural, however.
The sophomore fillies’ route is the Suncoast Stakes, a race that has found its way to my heart over the last couple of years. Two years back, Please Explain won her first (and so far only) stakes race in the Suncoast. Last year’s edition was one of my handicapping highlights of the year, as I picked Include Betty and she won at fantastic odds. This year’s nominees include Illinois-bred Missalaney, who seems to do her best work when the public sleeps on her. She broke her maiden in a turf mile at Hawthorne in November at 28/1 odds, keying a superfecta carryover. Last out, in the Gasparilla Stakes, she crossed the wire third at 42/1 odds. Dreamup is the other Suncoast nominee familiar from Chicago. She started at Arlington once and Hawthorne once, before winning a blowout at Tampa Bay last out. A couple other entries excite me as well, despite not being local, though I am not sure either will show up. Cosmic Evolution, who I have been high on since the post parade before the Debutante last year, has been nominated. However, most discussion has her going to the Martha Washington, and she is working at Oaklawn. Conquest Babayaga is also nominated to the Suncoast. That race would come just two weeks after her disappointing run in the Forward Gal (GII), not a move trainer Mark Casse often does. However, if Conquest Babayaga is raring to run, I would be thrilled to see this bearer of the orange and turquoise in person.
The nominations to the Tampa Bay Stakes (GIII) are devoid of Illinois-breds, but still contain a few familiar faces and old favourites. Heart to Heart started his career with a maiden win at Arlington. I did not see that with my own eyes, but I was at Churchill for his commanding victory in the Jefferson Cup (GIII) in 2014. I could not stop taking pictures of him and his unique star that day; if he runs in the Tampa Bay Stakes, I expect to do the same. The field also contains a few familiar faces from Arlington. Shining Copper finished third in the Arlington Million (GI) last year. He is one of three horses owned by the Ramseys who were nominated; if he goes, hopefully he gets a chance to shine on his own. Tourist, second in the 2014 Secretariat Stakes (GI), was nominated, as was 2015 Teleprompter Stakes winner Key to Power.
The field for the overnight prep handicap for the Challenger features one Illinois-bred, the stakes-placed Urban Cool. He has not raced in the Chicago area since an allowance win at Hawthorne in October of 2014. He has mainly been an allowance type in Florida, and he was third in a nice allowance at Tampa Bay last weekend. Looking beyond the Illinois-bred, two of the other nominees would be a thrill to see. Valid is one of the most honest horses in training, and seeing him run in person would be a treat. It seems like a long shot that he would show up for a $35,000 prep handicap, however, given the class of horses that he so frequently beats. Mr. Jordan is also entered. He is a pale grey, breathtaking to look at on video, and seeing (and taking pictures of) him in person would be fun.
The trip to Tampa Bay will be fun no matter what — I have never been to the city or to Tampa Bay Downs, and am excited to see the track for myself. Hopefully, I will get to see a few of these horses, as well!