Familiar Foes Square Off in Florida Oaks
Photo: Tom Cooley Photography
Rock Candy defeated Ameribelle (inside) and Don't Forget Gil (left) in the Suncoast Stakes.

The top five finishers from the competitive Suncoast Stakes in February will face each other again in the $200,000 Florida Oaks (gr. III) March 14 at Tampa Bay Downs.

The final two starters in the 1 1/16-mile Oaks are Miss Ocean City and Royal Ballade, who both make their 3-year-old debut after finishing well back in the Frizette Stakes (gr. I) last October at Belmont Park. The Oaks is the first of three graded stakes on Tampa Bay’s program, which is highlighted by the $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III).

The Feb. 14 Suncoast, run at one mile and 40 yards, ended in thrilling fashion when Rock Candy wore down Ameribelle in the final strides to win by a neck. Don't Forget Gil, who broke through the gate prior to the race and drifted out in the stretch during a troubled trip, also made a strong late run and was part of three-way photo. She finished just a neck behind Ameribelle as the 6-5 favorite.

It was the third consecutive win for Rock Candy – all of them coming on the Tampa dirt. The daughter of Mineshaft  —Party Chatter, by Pleasant Colony is trained by Mike Zwiesler. Carlos Montavalo will get the return mount.

Eddie Plesa Jr. trainee Ameribelle has won two of seven lifetime starts, both of them at Calder Race Course. Eibar Coa takes over the riding assignment.

Don’t Forget Gil, listed as the 9-5 morning-line favorite, made the first four starts of her career in New York. She won the East Coast Stakes at Aqueduct in December to close out her juvenile season. Rajiv Maragh rides for Mark Hennig.

Right after the Oaks comes the $175,000 Hillsborough Stakes (gr. IIIT) for fillies and mares going nine furlongs on the turf. A field of 11 was entered.

The morning-line favorite is Paul Pompa Jr.’s multiple graded-stakes winner Backseat Rhythm (3-1), who enters off a third-place finish in The Very One Stakes (gr. IIIT) Feb. 22 at Gulfstream. It was the 4-year-old debut for the El Corredor   filly, who won the Lake Placid (gr. IIT) and Garden City (gr. IT) consecutively last year. Eibar Coa will ride for Pat Reynolds.

G. Watts Humphrey Jr.’s Communique (4-1) makes her season's debut for Rusty Arnold. The 5-year-old Smart Strike   mare won a pair of grade III turf events in 2008 and was runner-up in the Beverly D. Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park in August. James Lopez will ride.

The third choice is Dennis Federico’s Waquoit's Love (5-1), who will look for her first graded stakes score in her seventh try. Waquoit’s Love won the Marshua’s River Stakes Jan. 11 in her 6-year-old debut but finished seventh in the Suwannee River Handicap (gr. IIIT) last out.

$200,000 Florida Oaks (gr. III, Race 9, 4:17 p.m.), 3-Year-Old Fillies, 1 1/16 Miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey

1. Brinca, 116, Luis Gonzalez
2. Rock Candy, 120, Carlos Montalvo
3. Royal Ballade, 116, Alan Garcia
4. Ameribelle, 116, Eibar Coa
5. Dzibanche, 116, Elvis Trujillo
6. Don't Forget Gil, 118, Rajiv Maragh
7. Miss Ocean City, 116, Jose Velez Jr.

$175,000 Hillsborough Stakes (gr. IIIT, Race 10, 4:55 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey

1. First Ascent, 116, Pedro Cotto Jr.
2. Elusive Lady, 116, Joe Bravo
3. Ballymore Lady, 122, Rajiv Maragh
4. Russian Rosie, 116, Rosemary Homeister Jr.
5. Drop a Line, 116, Jeremy Rose
6. Mushka, 118, Elvis Trujillo
7. Backseat Rhythm, 118, Eibar Coa
8. Communique, 116, James Lopez
9. Waquoit's Love, 122, Daniel Centeno
10. Absolutely Cindy, 116, Alan Garcia
11. Jaunty Gale, 116, Carlos Montalvo

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