Thursday, February 4, 2021
OLDSMAR - Special Princess has spent much of her brief career proving the naysayers wrong. Her next opportunity to confound the experts comes in Saturday’s $150,000 Suncoast Stakes, part of a lucrative Festival Preview Day 41 Presented by Lambholm South card at Tampa Bay Downs.
The mile-and-40-yard Suncoast on the main track is the ninth race on a 12-race card beginning at 11:50 a.m. Special Princess, who dead-heated for the victory in the 7-furlong Gasparilla Stakes on Jan. 16 with Adios Trippi, will break from the outside No. 10 post position under jockey Ademar Santos.
Special Princess is owned by her Ocala breeder, Jim DiMare’s J D Farms, and trained by Walter Woodard. The daughter of Bahamian Squall-Indy Crown, by Shaniko, breezed 3 furlongs Tuesday over the Oldsmar strip in 37 1/5 seconds with Santos aboard.
“We just blew her out a little to keep her on her toes,” said the 58-year-old Woodard, who began training on his own in 1998. “She has enough miles on her and enough bottom that she didn’t need to go any farther. She is a very easy filly to train, and she’s done everything I’ve asked her to do.”
The Suncoast Stakes is a “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” race, awarding qualifying points to the first four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale for the April 30 Longines Kentucky Oaks. The Suncoast is one of four stakes worth a combined $750,000 in purse money.
Just where Special Princess fits into the proceedings will be revealed, but Woodard knows the Suncoast will provide the toughest competition, top to bottom, of her career. She is 8-1 on the morning line, with Gulf Coast, from the barn of Rodolphe Brisset, listed at 5-2.
Besides Gulf Coast, who won the Cash Run Stakes on Jan. 1 at Gulfstream Park after finishing second here on Dec. 5 in the Sandpiper Stakes, likely contenders include trainer Ken McPeek’s well-regarded Roll Up Mo Money, to be ridden by Samy Camacho; Feeling Mischief, a Michael Campbell-trainee who won the Sandpiper Stakes and was third in the Gasparilla; Il Malocchio, another McPeek charge who won the Victorian Queen Stakes on turf last September at Woodbine; and trainer Eddie Kenneally’s Honorifique, second in the Cash Run.
And, that’s not even mentioning entrants trained by Hall of Fame members Bill Mott and Mark Casse.
But it’s horse racing, and Special Princess might have another surprise in store. The bettors ignored her in her career debut in August at Gulfstream, and she finished third in a nine-horse field at odds of 54-1. She was 24-1 when she broke her maiden on Oct. 28 at Gulfstream West. And she was mostly an afterthought in the Gasparilla, going off at 13-1. Adios Trippi appeared to have the race won before Special Princess staged a furious rally on the outside to create the deadlock.
“Saturday is a lot tougher race, because this starts the push toward the Kentucky Oaks,” Woodard said. “But this is what you have to do in life – keep stepping up. I’m confident she can run with this bunch. She wouldn’t be there if I didn’t think she belonged.
“I know she beat some nice horses (in the Gasparilla). I think she is definitely going to be able to run longer, and that Ademar will be able to settle her on the backside, get her motor revved up and come running. Everybody is going to know she is there, I’m pretty sure.”
The Gasparilla was Woodard’s first stakes victory as a trainer. “I’m the small-town guy going in. But I grew up with Mark Casse when I moved to Florida (from Marietta, Ga.) out of high school to work for his father, Norman Casse, at Cardinal Hill Farm.” Woodard said. “I’ve been around these guys at the sales and big racetracks, and they wake up at 4 a.m. just like I do, so that doesn’t bother me.”
Woodard, who also worked at Ocala Stud Farm for about six or seven years before heading to the racetrack in 1998, has a quick reply when asked how he has managed to stay in the profession with only a few dozen victories to show as his on-track accomplishments.
“ ’Cause this is what I do for a living, and it’s the greatest game in the world,” he said. “Forget my record. I’ve been doing this my whole life. I’ve worked on horse farms, galloped horses, then I got into pinhooking. I’ve been doing this my whole life, I’m still in the business and I’ll be in the business until the end. I hustle and work hard, and racing has treated me very well.”
Woodard manages a 12-horse stable at Tampa Bay Downs. On Jan. 16, in the race before the Gasparilla, he sent out another J D Farms-owned 3-year-old filly, Peaceful Way, to win a maiden claiming event with Santos aboard. Peaceful Way is entered in Friday’s first race.
From sheer, unadulterated joy to the mountaintop. So what if he had to share the view? “Special Princess is probably the best horse I’ve trained,” Woodard said. “She makes my job real simple. I’m just fortunate to get to train her.
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