On sultry summer evenings in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., it's not unusual to see owners John C. Oxley, Charlotte Weber and Tracy Farmer sharing a table with trainer Mark Casse, reliving the day's excitement and spinning yarns about the sport's champions and colorful characters.
No matter the outcome of Saturday's Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, it's certain the four will remain friends. But Casse, who has trained a boatload of outstanding horses for Weber, including the 2017 Eclipse Award Champion Turf Male, World Approval, plans to put aside the social niceties late Saturday afternoon.
“It's funny to have all three of them with horses in the race,” said Casse, who trains 3-year-old colts Dream Maker for Oxley and Sir Winston for Farmer. “I wished Mrs. Weber good luck, but I told her 'We're going to try to beat you.'”
Weber bred probable Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby betting favorite Win Win Win and races the colt under her Live Oak Plantation banner. The Michael Trombetta-trained sophomore, who won the 7-furlong Pasco Stakes here on Jan. 19 in track-record time of 1:20.89, heads a field of 11 entered in the mile-and-a-sixteenth Tampa Bay Downs showcase on the main track.
Casse, who won the 2012 Tampa Bay Derby with Oxley's Prospective, trains that owner's homebred Dream Maker and Farmer's homebred Sir Winston. Farmer won the 2005 Tampa Bay Derby with Sun King.
The 39th edition of the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is the 11th race on a 12-race Festival Day 39 card beginning at 12:12 p.m. The race is a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race, with the first four finishers awarded 50-20-10-5 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 4.
Four other stakes races are scheduled Saturday, with total stakes purse money a cool $1-million.
The program includes the Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes, for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf; the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf; the $100,000 Challenger Stakes, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track; and the $75,000 Columbia Stakes, for 3-year-olds at a mile on the turf.
The first 7,500 fans through the gates will receive a commemorative umbrella with the distinctive track logo, with paid admission. The day's activities begin at 10 a.m. on the first floor of the Grandstand with track announcer Richard Grunder's “Morning Glory Club Show,” featuring Win Win Win's trainer, Michael Trombetta.
What's in a name? Well, Dream Maker could be an apt moniker if he comes through with a big effort today. He took a step toward justifying Casse's belief in him last month in his 3-year-old debut, winning a mile-and-a-sixteenth allowance/optional claiming race at Fair Grounds by eight-and-a-half lengths.
Florent Geroux, who won last year's Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on Quip, returns as Dream Maker's jockey.
“He's been training really well, and this race would set him up nicely for the (Grade II Toyota) Blue Grass (on April 6, at Keeneland) if he runs well,” Casse said.
Dream Maker is a son of top sire Tapit, out of the mare To Dream About, who never raced but has regal breeding. To Dream About, in turn, was sired by Oxley's 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos and is out of Oxley's multiple Grade I-winning mare Beautiful Pleasure.
“Dream Maker's full sister, Dream Dancing, is one of our Grade I winners, so Dream Maker comes from two of Mr. Oxley's best families,” Casse said. “When he broke his maiden (last June, at Churchill Downs), I told Mr. Oxley I thought we had another Classic Empire (their Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Arkansas Derby winner and 2017 Preakness runner-up),
“He (Dream Maker) had some issues last year that set us back, but he has grown up and looks wonderful and his last race was really good.”
Sir Winston, by the superb sire Awesome Again out of the Grade III-winning mare La Gran Bailadora, won the Display Stakes on the synthetic surface at Woodbine on Dec. 8, then returned to the dirt to run fourth in the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct on Feb. 2. He will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.
“I think Sir Winston is a bit of a sleeper,” Casse said. “He has gotten better as a 3-year-old, and his last race was probably a little better than it looked. It was his first start on dirt since (his career debut in June), and the jockey said he kind of jumped up and down early before he leveled off and made a run.
“One thing about him: distance is not a problem,” Casse said, referring to his pedigree influences.
“It shapes up as a heck of a race, and I think I've made it quite clear over the years I think a lot of Tampa, especially for a lot of our better horses trying to get ready for the ((Kentucky) Derby.”
Here is the field for the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby in post position order, with trainers, jockeys and morning-line odds:
1. Admire, Dale Romans, Robby Albarado, 12-1; 2. Sir Winston, Mark Casse, Julien Leparoux, 12-1; 3. Lord Dragon, Jordan Blair, Jose A. Bracho, 30-1; 4. Dream Maker, Mark Casse, Florent Geroux, 4-1; 5. Well Defined, Kathleen O'Connell, Pablo Morales, 7-2; 6. Outshine, Todd Pletcher, Joel Rosario, 8-1; 7. Win Win Win, Michael Trombetta, Irad Ortiz, Jr., 5-2; 8. The Right Path, Jorge Duarte, Jr., Joe Bravo, 15-1; 9. Dunph, Michael Maker, Daniel Centeno, 20-1; 10. Tacitus, William Mott, Jose Ortiz, 12-1; 11. Zenden, Victor Barboza, Jr., Samy Camacho, 8-1.
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