Best Horse Racing Picks This Weekend Tampa Bay Downs
Led by the $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby, their signature race of the year, Tampa Bay Downs has an excellent card of racing scheduled for Saturday with five stakes races.
A prep for the Kentucky Derby, this year’s Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby is headlined by Classic Causeway. The son of Giant’s Causeway was a smashing winner of the local Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes for trainer Brian Lynch in his 3-year-old debut.
Other graded stakes on the afternoon include the Grade 2 Hillsborough for fillies and mares on the turf, the Grade 3 Challenger for older males on the dirt, as well as the Grade 3 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on the turf. The undefeated Bleecker Street tops the Hillsborough, while Greatest Honour, who won two graded stakes on the Kentucky Derby trail last year, will make his long-awaited return in the Challenger.
This week we will focus on all five stakes races at Tampa Bay Downs, along with a showdown of top older females, Shedaresthedevil and Ce Ce in the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Tampa Bay Derby (G3), Tampa Bay Downs, 1 1/16 miles (dirt), 3-year-olds
A big field of a dozen 3-year-olds, headed by Classic Causeway, the impressive winner of the local Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes, will try to prove they belong on the Kentucky Derby trail when they meet in the $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs.
A sparkling debut winner at Saratoga, Classic Causeway moved right up into graded stakes racing and has proven himself worthy. A third-place effort in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity was followed up with a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs late last season. The Brian Lynch-trained son of Giant’s Causeway earned his first stakes win in his sophomore debut, dominating his competition last time by nearly four lengths.
Chief among his rivals in the Grade 2 feature will be Major General from the powerful barn of Todd Pletcher. Also a debut winner last summer at Saratoga, the son of Constitution was a brave winner of the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs in his second career start despite a less than ideal trip.
Not seen since that September score, he will be making his first start in six months in the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby. Others who merit respect on Saturday include the rallying runner-up of the Sam F. Davis, Shipsational, and the impressive debut winner from the barn of Chad Brown, Money Supply. The signature race at Tampa Bay Downs, the Tampa Bay Derby will offer Kentucky Derby qualifying points on a scale of 50-20-10-5 to the top four finishers.
Our Pick: Classic Causeway (8/5) – The impressive colt looked like a real Kentucky Derby threat in his seasonal debut and has the speed to control this race throughout.
Hillsborough Stakes (G2), Tampa Bay Downs, 1 1/8 miles (turf), 4-year-olds and up fillies & mares
The rematch between the unbeaten Bleecker Street and the talented Lady Speightspeare is the big story as a field of nine older females will look for the top prize in the $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course. The Chad Brown-trained Bleecker Street ran her record to a perfect 4-for-4 when she ran by her rival in the stretch of the Grade 3 Endeavour Stakes at Tampa five weeks ago.
A 4-year-old gray daughter of Quality Road, she will be looking for her third straight win locally, having scored in allowance race there to begin the year
Lady Speightspeare, meanwhile, was a Grade 1 winner as a 2-year-old for her legendary trainer Roger Attfield. That victory came in the Natalma at Woodbine 18 months ago. The speedy daughter of Speightstown has won 2-of-4 following a long layoff and has won 4-of-6 overall. Her only two losses came in the last two, but both a third in the Tropical Park Oaks at Gulfstream Park and her runner-up last time were solid efforts.
Of the rest, both Runaway Rumour, a stakes winner in New York last year, and Rocky Sky, an Irish import for trainer Chad Brown, merit consideration.
Our Pick: Bleecker Street (2/1) – The last one points out that this improving filly could be in store for a big season in 2022.
Challenger Stakes (G3), Tampa Bay Downs, 1 1/16 miles (dirt), 4-year-olds and up
Rivals on the Kentucky Derby trail last year, Greatest Honour and Dynamic One will renew acquaintances when they top a field of ten older males set for Saturday’s Grade 3 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
Trained by Shug McGaughey, Greatest Honour was a hot 3-year-old last year when he accounted for both the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. He also defeated Dynamic One in a maiden race in South Florida, but saw his Derby hopes end after an injury sidelined him following a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. The Challenger will be his first race in almost a year.
The morning-line favorite on Saturday is actually Dynamic One. Trained by Todd Pletcher, who has already won the Challenger four times, the 4-year-old son of Union Rags made it to the Kentucky Derby after just missing in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial. He had no luck on the first Saturday in May, but came back to win the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga before finishing off the board in the Grade 1 Travers. This will also be his first start of the year.
Our Pick: Scalding (12/1) – Lightly raced runner is getting better with each start for trainer Shug McGaughey and comes into this race off a sharp win over the track.
Florida Oaks (G3), Tampa Bay Downs, 1 1/16 miles (turf), 3-year-old fillies
A wide-open group of nine sophomore fillies will be in search of their biggest win to date when they do battle on the Tampa Bay Downs turf in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks. The morning line favorite for the $200,000 affair is the Graham Motion-trained Ambitieuse. A daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, she was a fast finishing runner-up in the recent Grade 3 Sweetest Chant Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Before that, she broke her maiden over the new synthetic surface at the South Florida oval.
Chad Brown should have a say in the Florida Oaks, as the Eclipse Award winning trainer sends out both the third and fourth choice on the morning line. Spicer was a good looking winner of an Aqueduct maiden turf race four months ago in her second career start. Third in her debut, the Quality Road filly will be ridden by Jose Oritz on Saturday. Her stablemate is Dolce Zel, and she will be making her first start in the U.S. after breaking her maiden second time out in a maiden race in France. The lone stakes winners in the field also should not be discounted. Alittleloveandluck won the Ginger Brew two starts back at Gulfstream Park, while Mrs. Barbara was best in the Mazarine at Woodbine in her most recent start.
Our Pick: Dolce Zel (5/1) – French filly should be involved throughout and is likely coming to her new barn with plenty of talent.
Columbia Stakes, Tampa Bay Downs, one mile (turf), 3-year-olds
A wide-open field of ten sophomore colts will take to the Tampa Bay Downs turf course in search of their first stakes victory of the season in Saturday’s $75,000 Columbia Stakes. Among the top contenders is the Brian Lynch-trained Gingrich. The trainer of the Tampa Bay Derby favorite will hope to add to his day with this son of Mr. Speaker, who has already run five times on the grass, with a win, a second, and a third. Most recently he was a close-up fourth in the Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Others to strongly consider in the one-mile affair include Heaven Street, who won two of four on the turf last season and has now moved to the top turf barn of Christophe Clement; Fort Washington, a rallying winner of his second career start last out at Aqueduct for trainer Shug McGaughey; Wake Surf, a sharp maiden winner on the Gulfstream Park turf two starts back; and Kitten Mischief, who is switching to turf after a disappointing finish in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis, for trainer Jonathan Thomas.
Our Pick: Fort Washington (9/2) – Shug McGaughey-trained runner adds Lasix for the first time and should be rolling late in this wide open affair.
Azeri Stakes (G2), Oaklawn Park, 1 1/16 miles (dirt), 4-year-olds and up fillies & mares
Two of the nation’s top older females, Shedaresthedevil and Ce Ce, will return to a track where they have had big success when they headline a field of eight older females entered for Saturday’s Grade 2 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Ce Ce is the champion of the two, but Shedaresthedevil is more accomplished around two turns and might hold a slight edge in the 1 1/16-mile Azeri.
This is the same race where the Brad Cox-trained daughter of Daredevil defeated the champion Letruska in a stirring edition last year. The Kentucky Oaks winner of 2020 has won 9-of-17 overall, but will be making her first start since a losing effort in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Shedaresthedevil was defeated in the Breeders’ Cup, but it was Ce Ce’s day to shine as she ran right by the heavily favored Gamine in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. The victory earned her an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top female sprinter.
Coming off a second in the Grade 2 Santa Monica last month, she has the advantage of a race under her belt this season. She also has good experience at the trip, having captured the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn back in 2020. An alternative to the top two, the streaking Pauline’s Pearl is one to consider. A 4-year-old daughter of Tapit, she comes into the Azeri on a two-race winning streak, most recently winning the Grade 3 Houston Ladies Classic in impressive style. Among her three career stakes wins is last year’s Grade 3 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park.
Our Pick: Ce Ce (3/1) – The champion mare should enjoy the pace set up in this one as she returns to the site of her biggest career two-turn victory.
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Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.
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