Talented 2yos Take Center Stage at Tampa Bay Downs

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

December 12th, 2018

With the 2019 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) looming on the distant horizon, Tampa Bay Downs will kick off their annual schedule of stakes races for young Derby and Oaks contenders with the Inaugural Stakes and Sandpiper Stakes on December 15th.

These six-furlong sprints, one for colts and one for fillies, serve as stepping stones toward more significant two-turn tests at the Florida track in 2019, including as the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III), the Suncoast Stakes, and the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II). Want to get an early look at some of the potential contenders for those Derby and Oaks prep races? Then Saturday is a great place to start.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the main players in both races….

Race 6: Inaugural Stakes

Trainer Gerald Bennett is off to a terrific start at the current Tampa Bay Downs meet with eight wins from 21 starters, and he can reach the winner’s circle again with #3 Mercusio, a 4 ¼-length maiden winner at Gulfstream Park West one month ago. This won’t be a walkover though, since Mercusio—a bargain $22,000 auction purchase—is hardly the only promising colt in the field. #4 Xy Speed won his debut at Parx for trainer Jorge Navarro, while #7 Gladiator King and #2 Chinomado drop in class and distance out of the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes (gr. II), where they finished sixth and seventh. #8 Wallace, winner of the Soaring Free Stakes on turf at Woodbine, could be another contender while making his first start on a fast dirt track.

Race 9: Sandpiper Stakes

Eleven fillies will face the starter, but #10 Lovesick could be a clear favorite after opening her career with two gate-to-wire victories at Gulfstream Park and Gulfstream Park West, earning solid BRIS speed figures of 83 and 90. She’s actually already a stakes winner, having cruised to a three-length score in the Juvenile Fillies Sprint Stakes last month. #11 Into the South, third against colts in the Spendthrift Juvenile Sire Stakes at Churchill Downs, could provide a late-running challenge to the front-running favorite, and one shouldn’t sleep on the chances of #7 Stage Direction, a Godolphin homebred who rallied to a 1 ¾-length maiden score at Hawthorne two months ago.

The Tampa Bay Downs card kicks off at 12:24 p.m. Eastern.