Shirl’s Speight digs deep to take Tampa Bay Stakes

February 6, 2022

Attfield charge’s late rally results in turf score

OLDSMAR, Fla.—It must have been the right place at the right time.

Three weeks ago, Shirl’s Speight made his 5-year-old debut a winning one, with a 1 1/16-mile allowance score on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs. So, a race over the track, surface and at the distance, seemed redolent as a recipe for success, and Saturday in the 36th edition of the Tampa Bay Stakes, the son of the 2004 Eclipse Award winning sprinter Speightstown, made it consecutive victories, and denied last year’s winner of the race, Get Smokin, another trip to the winner’s circle, as Shirl’s Speight rallied late and drew off under jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson to post a 1 1/2-length victory. The winner is conditioned by National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame and Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame trainer, Roger Attfield.

“I’m delighted with the way he did it today, we wanted to see if he could stay off the pace a little bit and run with that,” said Attfield, who had represented the United Kingdom at the international level as a show jumper. “He’s a very good horse. I really liked him here today, but I was worried he was going to be up on the lead.”

The two victories for Shirl’s Speight came after a subpar performance on Dec. 19 at Gulfstream Park, where he finished seventh, after an 11-month layoff.

Shirl's Speight wins the Tampa Bat
Shirl’s Speight wins the Tampa Bay

“I just wanted to see him get on track, he had an unfortunate race at Gulfstream,” said Attfield, who is the only trainer to have conditioned three Canadian Triple Crown winners, With Approval, Izvestia and Peteski. “He seemed to fight the racetrack that day, and he was very fatigued. We could not understand what happened exactly. So, I brought him over here to get an easier race to get his confidence back because he’s a very good horse. That sort of set us up to come back over here. He ran like I know he can run. From here on out, we’ll have to start planning where we go.”

It was Shirl’s Speight’s third victory at the distance, fourth lifetime victory and second graded stakes score, after having won the Marine Stakes (Gr. 3) at Woodbine during his sophomore campaign.

Emma-Jayne Wilson is no stranger to success, with the 40-year-old rider having won the 2007 Queen’s Plate, the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, while in the irons on Mike Fox, who was conditioned by Ian Black. The jockey also won the 2005 Eclipse Award as the top apprentice jockey in North America, and the 2005 and 2006 Sovereign Awards as the top apprentice jockey in Canada. It was the first stakes victory for Wilson at Tampa Bay Downs, who hails from Brampton, Ont., Canada, the same hometown as former New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Tom Laidlaw.

“I was interested to see how the race was going to set up,” said Wilson, the 2018 Avelino Gomez Award winner. “The last time he was a little keen, when (Antonio) Gallardo rode him (on Jan. 15), but he settled off the pace nice, the way they kind of ran away from him early in the break here, I wanted to make sure he relaxed and I got into a position where he was comfortable, not using himself too much, but still had a chance to get him tipped out. I had to thread the needle a little down the lane. Good horses will overcome a lot of adversity. He shot through there, like he was shot out of a cannon. He’s in good order.”

Photos: Ben Baugh

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Ben Baugh

Ben Baugh has been writing about Thoroughbred racing for more than 25 years. A past winner of the Raleigh Burroughs Award, his work has appeared...

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