What a difference a grade makes. With its grade III status reinstated this year by the American Graded Stakes Committee, the $200,000 Tampa Bay Derby drew one of its strongest fields ever, attracting well-bred horses belonging to such high profile Kentucky owners as Josephine Abercrombie, Brereton C. Jones, and Marylou Whitney. All three were making their first visits to Tampa Bay Downs, and all three came away with high praise for the little track on Florida's West Coast.
"It's a lovely track with a county fair atmosphere," said Jones. "I love it," Whitney said. "It's warm, cozy, and not so commercial. You can see your friends and have fun." "I'm thoroughly enjoying myself," said Abercrombie. "I can't tell you how much fun it's been. It's a lovely track, beautifully kept. I'm seeing lots and lots of people I know from all over." Abercrombie certainly was the most pleased among the trio with the race results, as her Pin Oak Farm homebred Equality earned the first prize of $120,000 and set a stakes record of 1:43.66 in the 1 1/16-mile event. Jones' Political Attack finished third, while Whitney's Inaugural Address came in sixth. Abercrombie and trainer Graham Motion were taking a big step with Equality, selecting the Tampa Bay Derby for the roan son of Mt. Livermore's first stakes attempt. The colt had broken his maiden in the third of his three starts at two and had raced in allowance company in his first two starts this year, both at Gulfstream Park, prior to shipping to Tampa Bay Downs. It was that second race at Gulfstream, in which Equality scored a 16 1/2-length triumph at the Tampa Bay Derby distance, that convinced Motion.
"To be honest, when I saw the speed rating (a 98 by Daily Racing Form calculations), I was kind of surprised," Motion said. "That was a big part of coming here." Deliberately bypassing what he called the "heavy hitters" in the Florida Derby (gr. I), Motion brought Equality to Tampa Bay a week before the race to give him a workout over the surface. "I talked it over with Mrs. Abercrombie and Clifford (Pin Oak manager Clifford Barry). We all kind of make decisions together, and we thought it would be prudent to come up here a week before. He worked exceptionally well here," said the trainer. Equality was the 4-1 fourth choice in the nine-horse Tampa Bay Derby field. Favored was local hero Bunk N Ted, who had won all three of his prior races, including the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay. Bunk N Ted had the services of Hall of Fame rider Pat Day for the big race. With Equality breaking from the outside post, and knowing that not many horses were winning from far off the pace, Motion told jockey Ramon Dominguez to get the colt in a contending position early. Off a step slowly, Equality was hustled up along the outside to press the pace set by Political Attack before reaching the first turn. Second choice Political Attack, a Hawk Attack homebred for Jones who had won the Tropical Park Derby (gr. III) prior to finishing fourth in the Fountain of Youth (gr. I), set a solid pace. He was two lengths in front after an opening quarter of :23.01 and a half in :46.72. Political Attack, however, gave way to Equality when the Pin Oak colt set sail after five furlongs. Equality took a quick 1 1/2-length lead, then virtually coasted to the wire a 2 1/4-length winner. In addition to setting a stakes record, Equality came within a fifth of a second of matching the 13-year-old track record set by Sunny Prospector. Tails of the Crypt, runner-up in the Sam F. Davis and a stakes winner last year in Canada, finished second at 9-1. He was followed by Political Attack, Mucho Rapido, Bunk N Ted, Inaugural Address, Our Buck, Final Prophecy, and Showmeitall. The last-named was the third choice in the race after winning the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) and finishing second in the Spectacular Bid (gr. III) at Gulfstream. "He handled this with excellence," Dominguez said of the winner, whom he was riding for the first time. "It looks like he's getting better each time he runs."
"He's a really late developing horse, and I think he's benefited from the time," said Motion. "That's the great thing about Mrs. Abercrombie. She doesn't rush you and that makes my job a lot easier." Dominguez, who won the Florida Oaks (gr. III) aboard French Satin in the race before the Tampa Bay Derby, said he didn't think increasing distance would be a problem for Equality. That seemingly would leave the Pin Oak team with a choice of either Kentucky or New York for the Triple Crown nominee's next start. "There are so many races for 3-year-olds at this time of year," said Motion, who is in his third year of training the Pin Oak runners. "We're going to have to put our heads together and discuss this."
Smooth As Satin
The horse that trainer Steven Standridge was most concerned with in the $150,000 Florida Oaks was the filly he saddled, French Satin. The French Deputy filly has been a handful in the paddock, even flipping over on one occasion. "She gets fractious," Standridge said. "It's kind of normal for her, but still, this is the first time she has come a long way to run in a race and you never know how she's going to react." A homebred for Joe Greeley's Sabine Stable, French Satin got to the starting gate without incident and proceeded to trounce her nine rivals. She took the lead at the start, shook off approaching rivals as if batting away flies, and won by 1 3/4 lengths as the 3-2 favorite. Her time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:45.49. "It was just a matter of getting a nice, comfortable lead," said Dominguez. "She got her legs underneath her and was pretty relaxed. Turning for home, I always kept pressure on her and she always had a little left." Calder-based Standridge said he didn't know if French Satin was "a top filly, but I think if we pick our spots, we can do real well with her."(Chart, Equibase)