Morning Fire, R Girls a Charmer lead all the way at Tampa
Breaking behind most of the field from post 1 but rushing to the lead before the first call, the son of Friesan Fire held a one-length advantage over Epic Journey through splits of :22.98 and :46.03. That rival took a run at Morning Line in deep stretch, but the 4-1 second choice under Daniel Centeno held firm through the lane to post a 1 1/2-length triumph in a time of 1:24.76 for seven furlongs on a good track.
Owned by Mercedes Stables and trained by Keith Nations, Morning Fire paid $10.80. Epic Journey was nine lengths clear of Canadian invader Awesome Slate for second, while 2-1 favorite Hand of Power showed little finishing eighth in a field of 10 three-year-olds.
A distant third in his debut at Parx last June, Morning Fire rebounded the following month to break his maiden over the same track by a neck. Next demoted from second to seventh in the $51,000 Strike Your Colors at Delaware Park, his stakes debut, Morning Fire's subsequent second in the $78,000 Mark McDermott, for Pennsylvania-breds at Presque Isle Downs, was untainted.
Morning Fire returned to win an open first-level allowance at Parx, defeating Bird of Trey for a second time, but that rival would make amends later. Morning Fire concluded his juvenile campaign with well-beaten seconds in the $75,000 Christopher Elser Memorial and $101,000 Pennsylvania Nursery, the latter to Bird of Trey, both for state-breds at Parx.
Nations said that Morning Fire might stretch out for the Sam F. Davis (G3) over 1 1/16 miles on February 13.
"We've had to push him to get him to sprint and we put the blinkers on him to hustle him a little bit, but he has a big stride and I think he is bred to go two turns," he said. "It depends how he comes out of it, but I think he has always wanted to go a route of ground."
Bred by Cynthia Higgle and now an earner of $164,713, Morning Fire is the first stakes winner produced by the Press Card mare Four Star Morning.
R Girls a Charmer, privately acquired by owner Gary Barber following a 6 3/4-length maiden win at Gulfstream earlier in January, continued her winning ways in the $82,500 Gasparilla for three-year-old fillies. Taking the lead from the start, the daughter of In Summation set splits of :23.04 and :46.33 before drawing off in the stretch to win by four lengths.
Under Antonio Gallardo, R Girls a Charmer completed seven furlongs in 1:25.61. The 4-5 favorite in a field of eight, she paid $3.60.
Cosmic Girl, making her stakes debut for Godolphin following a 7 3/4-length allowance win at Tampa December 18, was second in the Gasparilla, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of 42-1 longshot Missalaney.
Now trained by Mark Casse, R Girls a Charmer debuted at Gulfstream Park West November 28, finishing second in a six-furlong maiden to next-out winner Dearest. Her dominating maiden romp over six furlongs was her last start for trainer Alfred McIntosh. She's now earned $101,000.
Bred by Ocala Stud in Florida, R Girls a Charmer was produced by the Montbrook mare Velvet Charm and hails from the family of Preakness (G1) winner Louis Quatorze.
Another wire-to-wire victory was achieved by White Clover in the $50,000 Wayward Lass, a 1 1/16-mile event for older fillies and mares.
Owned by Calumet Farm and trained by Rusty Arnold, the four-year-old Exchange Rate filly set pokey splits of :24.61, :49.22, and 1:13.90, and had plenty left to extend her lead to 2 1/4 lengths at the finish over 7-5 favorite Savings Account.
Ridden by Victor Lebron, White Clover paid $29.80 after completing the course in 1:45.38.
Heroine of the $50,000 Our Mims at Delaware Park last season, White Clover had placed once in five other stakes attempts, that being a third in the Monmouth Oaks (G3) last August. Her record now stands at 13-4-2-2, $161,257.