Champion turf mare Tepin returns to action in Endeavour
Other than Triple Crown hero American Pharoah, one of the biggest stars of last fall's Breeders' Cup, and of the 2015 season in general, was Tepin. Unplaced in three of her final four outings at three in 2014, the daughter of Bernstein surprisingly developed into not only the nation's top turf mare but arguably one of the world's best milers.
Recognized with an Eclipse Award as the 2015 champion turf mare in mid-January, the five-year-old begins her title defense Saturday in the $150,000 Endeavour (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. Two photo finishes away from being perfect in seven starts during her championship run, Tepin will be an overwhelming favorite to beat six rivals in the 1 1/16-mile test.
Kicking off 2015 with straight wins, including the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) and Just a Game (G1), Tepin next missed by a nose in the Diana (G1) and by a head in the Ballston Spa (G2), both at Saratoga. However, it was an explosive, seven-length victory in the First Lady (G1) at Keeneland that convinced connections to try the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) against males over the same course rather than stretch her out to 1 3/16 miles for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).
The decision paid off in spades. A stalking second to the far turn, the Mark Casse-trained Tepin seized control approaching the quarter pole and was never threatened in beating a world-class field by 2 1/4 lengths. Julien Leparoux, who rode the filly all of last season, retains the mount for the Endeavour.
The rest of the field is not without quality, though it's hard to foresee an upset if the champion is anywhere close to her best. Photo Call, the trailer in Tepin's Just a Game, improved to win the Violet (G3) and Rodeo Drive (G1) before running a decent fifth in the Filly & Mare Turf. She debuts Saturday for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Lady Lara, who Tepin has defeated in their last three meetings, ended her 2015 campaign on a high note taking the My Charmer H. (G3) at Gulfstream Park West for Bill Mott. Partisan Politics is a multiple stakes winner but has yet to hit the board in five previous tries in graded company.
The top three finishers in a January 13 Tampa allowance -- Bureau de Change, Lovely Loyree, and former Canadian Horse of the Year Lexie Lou -- complete the Endeavour lineup.
The $150,000 Tampa Bay (G3), for older horses at 1 1/16 miles, is a more contentious affair. The field of 12 includes Grade 3 winner War Correspondent, who might have been in need of a race when seventh in the January 9 Ft. Lauderdale (G2) at Gulfstream in his comeback from a layoff of more than nine months.
Sky Captain, demoted from second to fourth in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs last May, is another who is much better than he showed in his most recent start. Sidelined until November following the Turf Classic, he finished last of eight in his November 15 comeback facing allowance company.
Grand Tito, multiple graded stakes-placed last season, is another leading threat to rebound after throwing a dud in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) in his most recent start. Others likely to attract play include A Lot, Reload, Take the Stand, Karibu Gardens, and Solemn Tribute.
(Wendy Wooley/EquiSport Photos)