After finishing second in three of his first four stakes tries, Morning Fire dug down Jan. 23 to hold off a stretch challenge from Epic Journey to win the $100,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Watch Video
Mercedes Stable's Morning Fire closed out last season with a pair of runner-up finishes in stakes at Parx Racing. He reached the line second in four stakes in Pennsylvania last year, although in one of those efforts he'd be disqualified to last. He would not be denied his first career stakes win in Saturday's seven-furlong test for 3-year-olds, however.
With Daniel Centeno showing the way, Morning Fire claimed a clear lead coming out of the chute. He was pressed by Epic Journey in the backstretch before that one unleashed his best just after Morning Fire completed a half-mile in :46.03.
Those two dueled into the stretch, where a determined Morning Fire responded to the challenge and completed the seven furlongs in 1:24.76 on a good track to register a 1 1/2-length victory. The win gives trainer Keith Nations his first six-figure purse stakes victory.
Morning Fire returned $10.80, $4.80, and $4 across the board, while Epic Journey paid $5.80 and $4 to place and show. Awesome Slate, who raced in third for most of the race but finished well behind the top two, held that spot, returning $6 to show.
Morning Fire is the first stakes winner for second-crop sire Friesan Fire , a grade II winner who stands at Country Life Farm near Bel Air, Md.
Bred in Pennsylvania by Cynthia Hipple, he is the first stakes winner out of the Press Card mare Four Star Morning, who has produced five winners from as many starters.
A race before the Pasco, 4-5 favorite R Girls a Charmer also registered a gate to wire victory in the Pasco's sister race, the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. In her first start for new owner Gary Barber and trainer Mark Casse, R Girls a Charmer completed the race in 1:25.61 on a track rated good, cruising to a four-length score over Cosmic Girl. Watch Video
After finishing second in her lone race last year, R Girls a Charmer has registered a pair of easy victories, as she previously notched a 6 3/4-length win in a six-furlong maiden special weight race Jan. 2 at Gulfstream Park. Barber privately purchased the daughter of In Summation after that effort.
All three of the stakes races on Saturday's Tampa Bay card were won on the front end, as White Clover lead at every point of call in an upset victory in the $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes. With Victor Lebron aboard, White Clover opened up in the stretch to post a 2 1/4-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares 4 and older.
Trained by Rusty Arnold, the 4-year-old daughter of Exchange Rate secured the second stakes win of her career.