By Doug McCoy
For 3-year-olds, this is the time of year that separates the contenders from the pretenders.
Trainer Mark Casse has come to this point in the past with some highly regarded Triple Crown prospects such as Uncaptured and Prospective . Uncaptured missed the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) but went on to earn more than $1 million; Prospective won the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) but clipped heels shortly after the start of the Derby and wasn't a factor.
This season Casse has another highly regarded 3-year-old in Airoforce, winner of three of four starts thus far and a horse considered by some as a legitimate candidate for this year's Kentucky Derby. But on Feb. 13 another Casse 3-year old, the unheralded Whatawonderflworld, will seek his fourth straight win in the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles at Tampa Bay Downs.
Casse said it would be unwise to take Whatawonderflworld lightly.
"You know the ones with the dazzling bloodlines or the big yearling purchases get a lot of attention, and they should, but some of the most pleasant surprises in this game are the overachievers, the ones that develop and improve beyond what's expected of them," Casse said. "Whatawonderflworld is one of those types."
The Tiz Wonderful gelding out of the Victory Gallop mare Celtic Sunshine overcame post 11 in a 12-horse field in the OBS Champions Stakes Jan. 26. He rallied past Two Step Time late for one-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile stakes restricted to horses that went through the Ocala Breeders' Sale Co. ring.
Purchased privately after the 2015 OBS June sale of 2-year-olds in training and horses of racing age by Gary Barber, Whatawonderflworld—bred in New York by T/C Stable—won on the synthetic surface at the Ocala Training Center after winning his final two races at 2 on the turf at Aqueduct Racetrack and Belmont Park.
Casse was asked if he had concerns about the gelding's ability to handle the dirt, and also why Whatawonderflworld began his career racing on the turf.
"As to handling the dirt, I don't really think that's going to be a problem," Casse said, "He has trained great on dirt and we started him on turf because I like to start most of my young horses on turf their first time out. There's not much throwback on turf like on the dirt, and I've found a lot of young horses get flustered and lose their focus from getting the dirt in their faces.
"If they show they like the going on turf like Whatawonderflworld did, there's no sense changing early on."
Whatawonderflworld made three mini-moves during the course of his race in Ocala, including a late surge that carried him to victory. Victory Gallop was known to be a tenacious competitor, and Casse said he believes that's what makes him such a good broodmare sire.
Tenacity is one of the things that could help Whatawonderflworld continue to climb the ladder and be a serious factor in the national 3-year-old picture this spring.
"This horse just loves to compete and loves to win," Casse said. "That will to battle and prevail is something we look for in every horse we have, but you can't teach it and you can't buy it. This horse has that quality; now we just hope he'll prove he can compete at the highest levels."