OLDSMAR, FL. â€“ The countdown has begun to discovering if Tampa Bay Downs track and multiple stakes-record holder Catalina Red can continue to excel while going around two turns against 3-year-olds from some of the countryâ€™s top stables.
After a recent workout that his trainer, Chad Stewart, described as â€œjust what we wanted,â€ Catalina Red heads the list of likely entrants for Saturdayâ€™s Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the centerpiece of the trackâ€™s Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card.
The lucrative afternoon of Thoroughbred racing will also feature the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf course and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the main dirt track.
Catalina Red and the Stewart-trained Bandages, a 3-year-old Kentucky-bred colt owned by World Thoroughbreds Racing, Inc., are among a group of about 10 â€œstrongly possibleâ€ Sam F. Davis starters released today by Tampa Bay Downs Stakes Coordinator Gerry Stanislawzyk.
The Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes could draw a full field of 12 distaff runners, headed by a pair of Grade I winners: Speedway Stable, LLCâ€™s 6-year-old mare Hard Not to Like, trained by Christophe Clement, and Michael Dubbâ€™s 4-year-old filly Rosalind, trained by Chad C. Brown. The race could also include the past two winners of Tampa Bay Downsâ€™ Grade III Florida Oaks: 2013 winner Tapicat, trained by William Mott, and 2014 winner Testa Rossi, trained by Brown.
Owner Anthony A. Lenciâ€™s Florida-bred Catalina Red, meanwhile, owned a pair of thirds and a second entering the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 6, His first two starts had been on the turf in south Florida before Stewart switched him to the dirt for his runner-up effort Nov. 8 at Gulfstream Park West.
In the Inaugural, he transformed into a horse to be reckoned with, drawing off to a seven-and-a-quarter length victory under jockey Daniel Centeno in stakes-record time of 1:09.32 for six furlongs.
As it turned out, that effort was merely an appetizer for his next start on Dec. 27 in the $100,000 Pasco Stakes. With Centeno again in the irons, Catalina Red won by a neck from X Y Jet â€“ turning the tables on his Nov. 8 conqueror and becoming the first horse in Tampa Bay Downsâ€™ 89-year history to run seven furlongs in under 1:22 (1:21.40).
X Y Jet finished second Saturday in the Grade III Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream.
Stewart, who trains Catalina Red at his Grace Full Oaks Training Center in Ocala â€“ a 94-acre tract within the Hunter Farm Training Complex â€“ believes the rapidly improving son of Munnings-Lovely Dream, by Freud, is capable of handling the mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis distance.
The Sam F. Davis, which has produced at least one Kentucky Derby starter in 10 of the last 11 years, is the major prep race for the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on Festival Day, March 7.
â€œHe came out of the Pasco in good shape, and heâ€™s ready to go,â€ said Stewart, who is also planning to start World Thoroughbreds Racing, Inc.â€™s Kentucky-bred colt Bandages in the Sam F. Davis. â€œI thought Catalina Red had a great workout Wednesday (a five-furlong breeze at Hunter Farm in 1:05.27). He finished strong and galloped out nice.
â€œHe is just a very smart horse,â€ said Stewart. â€œHe stays relaxed, he doesnâ€™t show a lot of emotion and he likes his job. And I donâ€™t think it hurts him any to train (at Hunter Farm). Itâ€™s a much calmer atmosphere than being at the track, and while some horses may need the racetrack environment, (Catalina Red) does well shipping in.â€
Other likely Sam F. Davis starters at this point include G Five from the barn of Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who has sent out the Sam F. Davis winner in five of the last nine years; Ocean Knight, a well-regarded son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin; and allowance winners My Johnny Be Good and Crittenden, both from the barn of trainer Eoin Harty.
Also, stakes-placed Brother Bobo, trained by Jason Servis; Divining Rod, trained by Arnaud Delacour; and Canadian invader Bears Personality, trained by Reade Baker.
Stewart said Lenci has turned down six-figure offers to buy Catalina Red following his record-breaking performances. â€œThe offers got to be real good, but Mr. Lenci loves to race,â€ Stewart said.
Stewart knows the biggest question surrounding Catalina Red is his ability to stretch out in distance. Munnings, his sire, was a multiple-Grade II winner, all at the seven-furlong distance. Munnings is by 2004 Eclipse Award Champion Sprinter Speightstown, who never won a race past seven furlongs in his exceptional career.
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