This weekend's spotlight race in the 3yo division is the $100,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
The 7f dirt race drew a field of 10, including the coupling from owner John Oxley and trainer Mark Casse of Dynamic Sky and Sky Commander. Dynamic Sky looks a lot like last year's Pasco winner Prospective, who also was an Oxley/Casse product.
Mindspell: He cleared the NW1X condition last time at Tampa, and the horse that finished third to him (City of Weston) came back to run 2nd in a slowly run renewal of the Spectacular Bid S. at Gulfstream Park. The rail is not a great place to be going 7f, but he has the speed to get away. Company lines show losses to Brave Dave and Capital City, horses that today's foe Purple Egg handled in the Inaugural S. Mindspell will need to improve to compete for the win here.
Falling Sky: 2-for-3 lifetime. Won his debut at Calder, regressed first time vs. winners when 4th in the Inaugural, then took a step forward when gamely winning a NW1X at Gulfstream. Third-place finisher from his last (Singanothersong) returned to win a NW1X at GP. Falling Sky was no match for Purple Egg in the Inaugural, but he could put up a better fight this time with more experience under his belt. Another that will need a good break from the inside.
Dynamic Sky: He's made four starts, all in stakes, and his only off-the-board finish came in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. That also was his only dirt race. I didn't think he ran very well in the BC, but that's a difficult race to evaluate due to the severe inside speed bias that plagued the 2012 Cup. Plus, he was off Lasix that day. Casse is fine off the layoff, and Dynamic Sky's company lines and speed figures make him a big threat to win. Luis Contreras, the only rider he has ever had, ships in for the mount. Contreras has had some steering issues with this talented but green colt, and note the addition of blinkers.
Lightning Stone: He's won two in a row on the turf by open lengths. The addition of blinkers have really helped him. His action looks a bit turfy, but he did run ok in the career debut on dirt. The biggest problem for him cutting back in distance is that he is going to be facing much quicker fractions than he is used to.
Purple Egg: He's undefeated, and it's impressive that he has won at three different tracks. Monmouth, PARX, Tampa ... he doesn't need to take his track with him. I loved his win in the Inaugural. He runs with a nice, relaxed stride and the way he gradually doles out his energy, the increase to 7f should be a positive for him. He missed the GP Derby reportedly with a fever, but fired a bullet here on Jan. 6. He should be stalking the leaders, looking for a seam turning for home.
Silver Day: Turns back off a 5th-place finish in a turf stake. He's going to find himself much further off the pace than he is accustomed to. Doesn't look fast enough.
O T B Bob: Is still a maiden and looks overmatched in here.
Divine Ambition: Won his debut by 8 lengths at Turfway and then was sold privately to Silverton Hills. New trainer Darrin Miller doesn't have great stats first-out with horses joining his barn. Beat nothing in the Turfway race but did it the right way. He was inside of the pacesetter when the rider pulled him back and steered him outside. He then drew off with a good-looking stride. The added distance should suit him, and this is a good post for his style. He'll need to jump way forward, but he is a candidate to do so in his second career start and first on dirt.
Hard to Name: Did not take to the turf in his last, but the pair of wins on the dirt at PARX were pretty good. Wide, stalk-and-pounce trip looks likely, and 7f on dirt is probably his game. Fast looking workout on Jan. 7, and I could see him bouncing back here.
Sky Commander: Coupled with Dynamic Sky. His best two races came on turf, and the coupling kills your value if you think he can run big going 7f on dirt.
Conclusion: Purple Egg is one of my favorite early 3yos and my top horse in this field. At 5-2 or above, he is a prime win bet for me. At 2-1 or below I would look to make a smaller play, keying him on top in the exotics. Divine Ambition interests me at 12-1 on the ML. He could get a nice pace pressing trip, and there is upside here. Hard to Name looks like he could get a piece, and if I play an exacta or trifecta wheel, he is one I will look to use. The Oxley/Casse coupling probably should be favored, but both have question marks for me. I'll bet that neither run their best here, and will confine them to underneath exotics action.