OLDSMAR, FL – Observers expecting the 34th edition of the Grade 3, $200,000 Florida Oaks to be one of the best in race history weren’t disappointed.
After favorite La Coronel wrested the lead from Compelled deep in the stretch, New York-bred 3-year-old filly Fifty Five flew by both of them in the final strides to post a neck victory over La Coronel. Compelled was another half-length back, followed by Dynatail. Super Marina, Daddys Lil Darling, Valentine Wish, and Like a Hurricane rounded out the order.
Fifty Five’s time of 1:41.60 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth on turf was a stakes record, bettering the mark of 1:41.89 set in 2013 by Tapicat.
“She’s a heartthrob because she always comes from behind like that,” said John Crowe, who bred and owns Fifty Five with his wife, Sandy, under their Empire Equines banner.
“When (jockey Jose Ortiz) took her back early, I thought ‘She’s done this before,’” said Sandy Crowe. “But, when they turned for home, I said ‘Get her moving, get her moving.’”
Ortiz, as he so often does, responded with skill and cool, rallying Fifty Five for her third victory in five starts and first stakes triumph.
“The trainer (Thomas M. Bush) just told me to keep patient, and when you ask her, she is going to give you a big run,” Ortiz said. “I just tried to follow (La Coronel) because I knew she was going to be tough, and as soon as we passed the eighth pole, I knew we had a decent chance to win.”
Fifty Five is by Get Stormy out of the Crowes’ mare Soave, who died earlier this year.
“The fractions (22.83 for the quarter-mile and 46.90 for the half, set by runaway leader Like a Hurricane) helped us quite a bit, but she did move up on the backside with the rest of the field and was in pretty good shape,” Bush said. “It’s a terrific feeling. She just won a graded stakes and has improved every time we’ve run her, and you can’t ask more from a horse than that.”
Fifty Five returned $10.20, $3.40, and $2.20. La Coronel brought back $2.60 and $2.10, while Compelled paid $2.40 to show.
Two other stakes were run today at Tampa Bay Downs, and each produced impressive winners.
In the 26th running of the $100,000 Challenger Stakes, the addition of blinkers seemed to make a big difference for 5-year-old horse Stanford, who broke on top and led his six rivals on a futile pursuit throughout. Stanford and jockey John Velazquez passed the wire 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Ami’s Flatter, completing the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance in stakes and track-record time of 1:41.75.
The clocking eclipsed the former track record of 1:42.45, set four weeks earlier by McCraken in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes.
Stanford, a multiple graded stakes winner who is now 6-for-15 lifetime, is owned by Stonestreet Stables, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, and is trained by Todd Pletcher. First-place money of $60,000 raised his career earnings to $1,334,360.
“His first jump out of the gate was good, then the second jump he kind of stumbled a little bit and I had to kind of grab him by the reins,” Velazquez said. “He got a little aggressive going through the first turn, but once he got to the backstretch, he relaxed pretty good and the ears went up.
“Down the lane, I wanted to see how he would do, because it was his first time with blinkers and he tends to wait on horses. He actually responded pretty well,” Velazquez added.
“When he hit the quarter-mile pole, it looked like he kind of took off,” said Pletcher’s assistant, Ginny DePasquale. “His last race (the Poseidon Handicap at Gulfstream on Jan. 28), he kind of looked at something on the rail and ducked a little bit, and he lost by a hair.
“Todd wanted to try blinkers and make him focus a little more, and it seemed to do the job quite well,” DePasquale added. “John wanted to see what he had in the tank, so he hit him once or twice down the lane, and that was all he really needed.”
Stanford returned $3, $2.20, and $2.10. Ami’s Flatter brought back $3.80 and $2.40, while Hereditary paid $4 to show. Adirondack King, Idolo Porteno, Blofeld, and Ruffolo rounded out the order.
The Festival Day stakes card kicked off with the $75,000 Columbia Stakes, last run in 2009 as the Chris Thomas Turf Classic and now a one-mile turf contest for 3-year-olds. After pressing the pace in the early going, Sonic Boom, a Kentucky-bred colt owned by Lothenbach Stables and trained by Ian Wilkes, took the lead in the stretch and held off late charges from Profiteer and Holiday Stone for the victory in a four-horse blanket finish.
Julien Leparoux rode Sonic Boom, who improved to 2-for-5 with his first stakes triumph after racing the distance in 1:34.73. His winning margin was a neck over Profiteer, with Holiday Stone another neck back and South Sea fading slightly to fourth in a four-horse blanket finish. Tiz a Slam, Bird’s Eye View, Big Bend, Muggsamatic, My Bariley, and Duvalin Dream rounded out the order.
“Ian told me (Friday) he had been doing very well, and he showed up today,” Leparoux said. “I think he is the kind of horse that is going to keep getting better. He just needs to relax a little bit. On the backstretch, he grabbed the bit with me, but it’s good because he still finished.
“We didn’t have the perfect trip – we were three or four wide on the backside and two-wide on the far turn – but he showed a big heart and tried all the way to the wire.”
Wilkes, who watched the race from Gulfstream Park, said he plans to keep the son of More Than Ready-Silent Circle, by Indian Charlie, on the turf for the foreseeable future.
“They were coming at him from different angles and he could have easily folded, but he wasn’t going to let them get by,” Wilkes said. “Julien gave him a very good ride and I’m very happy with the result.”
Tampa Bay Downs