Wishing for a Shipsational Betting Day

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Saturday is arguably the biggest racing day of the year at Tampa Bay Downs. Five stakes (four of them graded) worth a combined $1 million are on the agenda, led by the $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Let's check out two of the graded stakes and see if we can uncover some live longshots:

Challenger S. (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs

A strong field has assembled for the 1 1/16-mile Challenger, which has risen steadily in prominence over the last decade. Back in 2012, future Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Fort Larned claimed top honors. In the years since, graded stakes winners Stanford, War Story, Flameaway, and Last Judgment have all visited the Challenger winner's circle.

The morning line favorites for the 2022 Challenger are #4 Dynamic One (5-2) and #3 Greatest Honour (3-1), both accomplished sophomore campaigners last season. Dynamic One won the Curlin S., ran second in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial, and contested the Kentucky Derby (G1), while Greatest Honour won the Holy Bull S. (G3) and Fountain of Youth S. (G2) during the winter at Gulfstream Park.

The problem is, Dynamic One and Greatest Honour are both returning from long layoffs. Greatest Honour hasn't run since coming home third in the March 27 Florida Derby (G1), while Dynamic One is unraced since finishing last of seven in the Aug. 28 Travers S. (G1). Throw in the fact Dynamic One and Greatest Honour are late runners without much tactical speed, and it's tempting to oppose them both on Saturday.

Instead, I'll throw my support behind #9 Cody's Wish (8-1). A 4-year-old son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of Grade 1 winner Dance Card, Cody's Wish has always had the pedigree of an elite racehorse, and the promising form he displayed at Churchill Downs last fall suggests he's slowly delivering on his lofty lineage.

Cody's Wish first came to hand in a one-mile maiden special weight, when he pounced from just off the pace to win by two lengths in the blazing time of 1:33.88. His time compared favorably to the 1:33.85 required by older males to complete the Ack Ack S. (G3) later in the afternoon.

Cody's Wish subsequently rattled off back-to-back allowance wins racing one mile at Churchill Downs, on both occasions finishing fast to post comfortable victories. All three of Cody's Wish's Churchill victories came around one turn, but his pedigree suggests stretching out around two turns for the Challenger won't be an obstacle—in fact, Cody's Wish might relish the configuration.

The fact Cody's Wish hasn't run since Nov. 28 is a question mark, but he's turned in a few bullet workouts at Payson Park, and his 8-1 morning line odds (if they hold up) are enticing enough to offset the risk. I'm optimistic Cody's Wish can develop into a graded stakes winner this year—perhaps even a Grade 1 winner—and I'm excited to see how he performs on Saturday.

Tampa Bay Derby (G2) at Tampa Bay Downs

I'll be the first to admit #4 Classic Causeway (8-5) is a formidable favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby. What's not to like? The son of Giant's Causeway ran second in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) and third in the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) as a juvenile, then kicked off 2022 with a blowout win in the Sam F. Davis S. (G3) over the same track and distance as the Tampa Bay Derby.

But the Sam F. Davis was a tale of two trips. Whereas Classic Causeway enjoyed an unencumbered journey saving ground on the front end, runner-up #9 Shipsational (5-1) had a much tougher time of things. After breaking a step slowly, Shipsational was immediately shut off behind rivals and forced to adopt rallying tactics—a sharp departure from the pacesetting style he employed to win the one-mile Sleepy Hollow S. at Belmont Park last fall.

Despite this obstacle, Shipsational never gave up. He was still in sixth place with an eighth of a mile remaining, but a bold rally carried him up to second place, beaten 3 3/4 lengths by Classic Causeway while cutting into the margin down the homestretch.

Shipsational has trained sharply at Tampa Bay Downs since the Sam F. Davis, clocking six furlongs in a bullet 1:13 3/5 and four furlongs in a bullet :47 3/5. If he breaks cleanly on Saturday and returns to forwardly placed racing tactics, I believe Shipsational can turn the tables on Classic Causeway and spring a Tampa Bay Derby surprise.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Saturday stakes at Tampa Bay Downs?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite.

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