OLDSMAR, Fla.—Collected, poised, spirited and determined, all of those words could be used to describe the winner of the 44th running of the $100,000 6-furlong Sandpiper Stakes for juvenile fillies Saturday afternoon at Tampa Bay Downs.
Gary Barber’s Strategic Bird led for the preponderance of the contest, and in the process set some extremely fast fractions, 23.91 for the quarter-mile and 44.91 for 4 furlongs, with a final time of 1:10.05, the fourth fastest effort in history of the stakes race.
However, as authoritative and as overwhelming as she was in breaking her maiden three weeks earlier at Gulfstream Park, with the Mark Casse charge winning by a 12 ¾-length margin, Saturday’s victory was a courageous effort, one that had the bay filly repulse the bid of fast-closing Devine Charger to win by a desperate neck. The Sandpiper Stakes was part of the Tampa Bay Downs Cotillion Festival card.
“I had a couple of people with me who said, this race is over,’” said Jimmy Miranda, assistant trainer to Mark Casse. “And I said, ‘No, not yet.’ I just wanted to get down to the end. I saw the one horse come to her. She was fighting it pretty-well. She laid down some good fractions and she kept going. She ran a good race.”
Strategic Bird was ridden to victory by Antonio Gallardo, also known as The Hawk, who has won five riding titles at Tampa Bay Downs.
“I tried not to rush her too much,” said Gallardo. “I know she has a lot of natural speed.”
Saturday’s victory demonstrated Strategic Bird character, keeping to the task at hand, while faced with the gravitas of a heated stretch-duel. Strategic Bird drew the one hole, which was the perfect position for the filly, said Gallardo.
The grit and determination, and sheer feistiness of the filly, left and indelible imprint on Gallardo. Strategic Bird’s trainer Mark Casse was equally impressed with her performance on Saturday.
“The one hole is always tricky, especially with a filly making only her second start,” said Casse, in a text. “She hung tough and ran fast. The filly division ran faster than the colts (The Inaugural Stakes).
Strategic Bird was bred by the John Oxley Living Trust. Casse conditioned the Florida-bred’s sire Grade One winner Noble Bird, who was campaigned by John Oxley. The filly has the type of demeanor well-suited for shipping, said Miranda.
“We asked her to travel, but she handled everything well,” said Miranda. “She was great before the race, quiet, calm and relaxed, good to tack up. She’s just a good-minded filly.”
Strategic Bird will go back to Palm Meadows in Boynton Beach, Fla., to Casse assistant Nicholas Thomlinson-Alleyne.