Racing Roundtable: Tampa Bay Downs and the Distaff division

March 14th, 2023

James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson review the leading events of the past weekend at Tampa Bay Downs and Oaklawn Park in this edition of the Roundtable.

Did Tapit Trice rise in your Kentucky Derby (G1) rankings after the Tampa Bay Derby (G3)?

James Scully: I liked Tapit Trice's one-turn allowance win on the Holy Bull (G3) undercard, preferring it over Rocket Can's Holy Bull (G3) win, but came away underwhelmed by his Tampa Bay Derby performance. He won't get away with lazy behavior against deeper competition this spring. Tapit Trice appeared disinterested at the start of the Tampa Bay Derby, getting away sluggishly from the gate, and despite encouragement from Luis Saez, he continued to lumber toward the back of the field through the opening five-eighths of a mile. The gray colt eventually launched a winning stretch rally in his stakes and two-turn debut, but Tapit Trice must show more in his final prep, the April 8 Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland.

Kellie Reilly: Tapit Trice's performance sends a mixed signal for his Derby chances. On the plus side, he produced a devastating rally in deep stretch, turning a deficit of more than four lengths into a two-length victory. Yet the fact he was in such a poor position at all, as the 1-2 favorite, puts his effort in a less encouraging light. It wasn't a surprise that the Tapit colt was lackadaisical from the gate, as usual, but I would have thought he'd travel better through the race. Instead, Tapit Trice was apparently going nowhere until it was almost too late. He got away with it here, as his class edge was too much for them. He might not get away with it in the Blue Grass, and he almost certainly wouldn't pull it off in the Kentucky Derby. Needless to say, Todd Pletcher knows what he has to work on, and at least Tapit Trice has the raw material. The main question is whether he'll be the finished product by the first Saturday in May, or later.

Vance Hanson: Given how he looked on paper compared to the rest of the field, I was also underwhelmed by Tapit Trice's performance. A slow start and the subsequent necessity for him to take the overland route into contention undoubtedly contributed to a more workmanlike effort. The track, which isn't always to every horse's taste, might have played a role in that, too. Overall, I was looking for something a little more dazzling against that competition, but didn't see it. There's still time for Tapit Trice to step up with a better effort, but right now he doesn't appear close yet to being a serious threat to stablemate Forte. Indeed, he might prove to be a more solid prospect for the Belmont S. (G1) instead.

What else caught your eye at Tampa?

JS: Talk of the Nation is an exciting prospect in the three-year-old turf division following a strong win in the Columbia S. He won first time out over a muddy main track at Aqueduct in mid-November, and the Shug McGaughey-trained colt switched to turf following a sixth versus allowance foes at Gulfstream in early January, recording a convincing allowance triumph at Tampa Bay Downs a month later. By Quality Road, Talk of the Nation unleashed a powerful turn of foot after tracking the pace in his initial stakes outing, winning the Columbia in hand by a 2 1/2-length margin.

KR: Since I put in a very quick mention of Talk of the Nation in a previous Roundtable, and dove into his family in today's Pedigree Notebook, I'll stick to turf females for the Tampa eye-catchers. Shantisara was entitled to win the Hillsborough (G2) on paper, but it was still reassuring to see her deliver on the racecourse after her 2022 season was blighted by a setback. The Chad Brown/Irad Ortiz Jr. tandem connected again in the nightcap with debutante Royalty Interest. The Klaravich Stables colorbearer kicked away with total authority, and the 3-2 favorite galloped out as though she's eager to audition for the Belmont Oaks (G1) already. By the outstanding stallion Le Havre and out of the stakes-winning Shamardal mare Dusky Queen, she looks like a bargain buy at Arqana October for around $58,000.

VH: I'll join the chorus regarding Talk of the Nation's performance in the Columbia S., which I and most other bettors expected to see. He wasn't far off the course record for one mile on the grass, amazing for a three-year-old at this time of the year. McGaughey apparently has a budding turf star on his hands, and it'll be interesting to see how he develops in the coming months. Shantisara also turned in a fine effort to win the Hillsborough over a strong field and looks poised to make a second run at the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland, in which only her Eclipse Award-winning stablemate Regal Glory stood between her and the winner's circle last year.

How does the distaff division look in light of the Azeri (G3) and Beholder Mile (G1)?

JS: In good shape. Secret Oath appears to have moved forward at age four, returning with a 2 3/4-length score in the Azeri at Oaklawn. With new jockey Tyler Gaffalione, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained filly offered a sharp move into contention on the far turn before pouncing in the stretch. Multiple Grade 1 winner Clairiere, who was last seen finishing a head third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1), ran well for second after encountering traffic issues from off the pace. Little went smoothly last season for A Mo Reay, who was sold in November and transferred to Brad Cox, but the four-year-old filly is discovering her best form presently, notching her third consecutive win with a head tally over odds-on favorite Fun to Dream in the Beholder Mile.

KR: Even allowing for Secret Oath's fondness for Oaklawn Park, her Azeri conquest was quite a statement of intent for her four-year-old campaign. Her late-maturing pedigree reinforces the idea. But I'd suggest that new rider Tyler Gaffalione played a key role in the Azeri as well, and his patient style maximizes her chances of producing her best. At times last year, Secret Oath appeared to be taken out of her game by tactical choices. Azeri runner-up Clairiere didn't have the smoothest passage; in any event, the five-year-old ran as though a bit ring-rusty. Clairiere will be a different proposition in the rematch, and we'll have a better read on Secret Oath's progress. Although the Beholder Mile didn't offer a similar clash of heavyweights, don't overlook A Mo Reay's chances of becoming a prominent divisional player. The Brad Cox trainee simply nailed the streaking Fun to Dream, who ran her race, on her home track, and just got caught by a better filly. With the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, this was a rewarding reconnaissance mission. Note that A Mo Reay had kept some pretty smart company for previous trainer Todd Pletcher, so her rise isn't entirely out of the blue. 

VH: I believe the Azeri will be a more meaningful division race long-term than the Beholder Mile, so I'll restrict my thoughts to it. Secret Oath couldn't have looked any better, evidence that she's come back to her best form at four and that she retains a significant love for the Oaklawn strip. Clairiere figures to improve from her runner-up effort, too, as she probably wasn't fully cranked to deliver with bigger Grade 1 prizes down the road. The biggest test will be how these two are managed in the coming months. I'm more optimistic about Clairiere having a balanced campaign that will have her delivering her best in the fall, as was the case last year, but won't rule out the possibility Secret Oath will be right with her then.