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Pasco Stakes: Champions Dream Headlines a Strong Pair of Stablemates

Written by: Brian Zipse
Updated January 13, 2023
12 min read

Pasco Stakes Odds and Post Position

Check out our predictions and odds for the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs!










M Meneses

C Gatis





J C Ferrer

R Spatz





P Morales

G Bennett





S Camacho

M Casse





A A Gallardo

M Casse





S Marin

R Minguet

*Odds provided by author Brian Zipse.

Pasco Stakes Predictions and Best Bets

Here are my plays ($50 in total)

$10 Exacta part wheel - Armstrong over Champions Dream, Handsome Playboy and Shaq Diesel = $30

$10 Trifecta part wheel - Armstrong over Champions Dream over Handsome Playboy and Shaq Diesel = $20

If you're playing only to win, go with my top pick Armstrong (3/1).    



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Pasco Stakes Predictions

A Grade 3 stakes winner last time in New York, Champions Dream headlines a strong pair of stablemates for Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse in Saturday’s $125,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

Likely to be favored in the field of six, the son of Justify has won 2-of-3 starts for former trainer Danny Gargan. Debuting at Saratoga, he broke his maiden impressively going the same 7-furlong distance that he will see in the Pasco.

He faded to fifth in a sloppy edition of the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, before rebounding to win the Grade 3 Nashua at Aqueduct most recently. This will be his first start for the Casse barn. 

His stablemate Armstrong is also a stakes winner who has won 2-of-3 lifetime. All three starts came on Woodbine’s all-weather track and include a maiden win in November and a game score in the Clarendon last month.

Another horse to watch in the Pasco is the gray gelding Handsome Playboy. Trained by  Gerald Bennett, he has the most experience over the Tampa Bay Downs main track. 

A debut winner on the grass at Monmouth Park, he has run two solid efforts since arriving locally. The son of Handsome Mike was second in the Inaugural Stakes before easily winning an allowance race on Dec 21.

Pasco Stakes Predictions and Race Analysis

Champions Dream

The class of the race, this son of Triple Crown winner Justify has run in a pair of graded stakes in New York since winning nicely in his debut at Saratoga. 

While the competition of the Grade 1 Champagne probably proved a little out of his comfort zone, he rebounded nicely to win the Grade 3 Nashua, going a flat mile at Aqueduct. I do believe that the Nashua came up a little light this year, so this listed-stakes race might not be easier.

Still, he has won both starts on a fast race track, is the only graded stakes winner in the field, and has already won at the distance. A deserving favorite, he should prove the one to beat on Saturday.


The other Mark Casse-trained runner has a very similar record to his favored stablemate, with two straight victories including a stakes win last time. The big difference, however, is the racing surface. 

All three of his starts came on the all-weather track at Woodbine and now he gets dirt. The good news is that he is bred for the switch, and he has a couple of nice workouts over the dirt. 

I like his tactical speed and his progression in his three races in Canada. I also think he is well suited for the 7-furlong distance. Assuming he is at home on dirt, I think he has a big shot on Saturday. He is the top pick.

Handsome Playboy

This son of Handsome Mike has already been well-traveled in his first four starts. He’s tried the grass at Monmouth and the all-weather surface at Presque Isle, before making it down to Tampa Bay Downs for his last two. 

Both local efforts came at six furlongs and were quite solid for local trainer Gerald Bennett. They were both good enough to see him as the biggest threat to the Casse pair.  

Able to lay close early and then make a move at the leaders, he looks like a very solid bet to be a part of the exotics in what could be his toughest test to date. 

Loco Abarrio

While this son of Valiant Minister has only run in maiden claiming races at Gulfstream Park so far, he has shown plenty of speed in each and has improved consistently. 

It’s also worth noting that the last one was his first attempt on dirt and clearly his best race yet. Despite the jump-up in class, he clearly has a shot in here off his last performance. 

The biggest issue I see, though, is he will likely be a part of a pretty strong early pace, and that could be his undoing in his first try against winners.

Shaq Diesel

After a quiet first couple of races, this son of Khozan stepped it up to win from off the pace in two straight races at Gulfstream Park. In his stakes debut, and his first try at Tampa, he ran evenly to finish fourth in the Inaugural Stakes. 

He’ll have first-time Lasix as he attempts to do better on Saturday. He will also get an extra furlong, which he seemed to appreciate in his two wins. 

There are horses I like better in here, but as a longshot, he seems to have a realistic chance to pick up the pieces and work his way into the exotics.  


This gelded son of Cajun Breeze has wired two races in his first four career starts. Both of his two wins were won easily and against the cheaper competition. In his two losses, he stayed close early, got to the lead, but faded late. 

Considering the bump up in class, it would seem he would have his work cut out for him on or near the lead. All four previous starts have come at Gulfstream Park, so Tampa Bay Downs will be a new situation for me. 

Perhaps he is still improving, and I do like the fact that he seemed to run his race each time, but with other speed in the race, I do not fancy his chances in this one.



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How to Watch the Pasco Stakes

Pasco Stakes Race Information

  • What: Pasco Stakes 

  • Location: Tampa Bay Downs

  • Time: Saturday, January 14 -- 3:03 pm Eastern time

  • How to Watch: FanDuel TV

  • Purse: $125,000

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Image for Brian Zipse


Brian Zipse

296 Articles

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.

Email: [email protected]

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