Surging in the final yards, Swift Warrior prevailed in a tight four-horse finish to the $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for his second grade III victory in a row Feb. 16 on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs (VIDEO).
Ridden by Jose Espinoza, second choice Swift Warrior defeated 17-10 favorite Doubles Partner and outsider Alley Oop Oop by a half-length in the 1 1/16-mile race on a grass course rated good. Alley Oop Oop, part of a Jacks or Better Farm-owned entry, and Doubles Partner finished in a dead-heat for second, with pacesetter El Commodore just a head back in fourth. The final time was 1:43.14.
Swift Warrior, a 5-year-old son of First Samurai owned by James Covello and James Dolan and trained by John Terranova II, was coming off an easy front-running 2 3/4-length win in the John B. Connally Turf Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Sam Houston Race Park Jan. 26.
His second graded-stakes win was considerably tougher as Swift Warrior, forwardly placed in fourth behind El Commodore and Alley Oop Oop, ranged up four-wide in the stretch to challenge for the lead. The two pace horses, who clipped off quarter mile fractions of :24.73, :49.69, and 1:13.96, proved stubborn, however, and Doubles Partner joined the fray while five-wide on the extreme outside. But Swift Warrior, under brisk handling from Espinoza, reached the wire just in front.
"This horse (Swift Warrior) is my best friend. He is a real professional," said the New York-based Espinoza. "If we need speed he has it; if we decide to wait on the speed like today, he will do that. I was able to wait with him until the final turn and he made a response there that won us the race. All he needed was a clear path, and we had that."
Doubles Partner came on strongly in the final strides with Chris DeCarlo aboard, finishing on even terms with Alley Oop Oop and Fernando Jara.
Swift Warrior, out of the Afleet mare Afleet Summer, was bred in Kentucky by Paget Bloodstock, Nearctic Bloodstock, and Carhue Investments. He went through the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale but did not reach his reserve and was bought back for $80,000.
The half brother to stakes winner Caroline Sky is also a half brother to a 2-year-old by Giant's Causeway (the sire of First Samurai) that sold for $310,000 at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale to Sallusto and Albina, agents.
He began his career for trainer Steve Dwoskin before being switched to Terranova in early 2011 by the partnership of Covello and Dolan. The chestnut won the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park in his first start for his new connections and also captured the restricted Win Stakes on the inner turf course at Saratoga Race Course last August. He finished third in last year's Tampa Bay Stakes, half a length behind the victorious Roman Tiger.
Swift Warrior improved his career mark to 6-2-7 in 20 starts with earnings of $430,843.
Terranova's assistant Jason Desilets saddled the winner and praised Espinoza. "The way it unfolded was all up to Jose," Desilets said. "He knows this horse well, so we didn't need to give him many instructions. It was a little quick coming back from Houston and this was a tough field, but the horse is doing very good."
Carrying 122 pounds, the winner paid $7.20, $3.40, and $2.60. He topped a $12.80 exacta with Doubles Partner, who won the Tampa Bay Stakes as the favorite in 2011.
Doubles Partner returned $2.40 and $2.60 as the 124-pound top weight for trainer Todd Pletcher. The exacta with 13-1 Alley Oop Oop, who paid $4.20 and $4.20, was worth $28.80.
The connections of Alley Oop Oop were ecstatic with his effort. "He gave 110 percent. He was in a tight spot in deep stretch," noted trainer Stanley Gold. "You can't be upset to place in a graded stakes, and we live to fight another day."
El Commodore, who lost last year's Tampa Bay by a nose, was followed by Tiz Sardonic Joe, Allie's Event, Hollinger, Roman Tiger, and Argentine Tango. Big Blue Kitten, Cash Rules, San Antone, and Za Approval were scratched.