Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby undercard included a trio of stakes.
Mission of Joy keeps progressing for Graham Motion, jumping to stakes competition with a game win the $200,000 Florida Oaks (G3). An up-and-comer in the three-year-old filly turf division, Mission of Joy stretched her win streak by outfinishing Alpha Bella by a neck in the 1 1/16-mile turf affair.
Unplaced in her first start on Woodbine’s Tapeta, Mission of Joy switched to turf to break her maiden the second time out at Tampa Bay Downs in early December. The daughter of Kitten’s Joy followed with a two-length triumph over entry-level allowance rivals at Tampa on Jan. 18.
Mission of Joy is campaigned by RyZan Sun Racing and Sol Kumin’s Madaket Stables.
The chestnut left the starting gate as the 5-1 third choice among 12 runners and rated in midpack before beginning to advance on the far turn. Juniper’s Moon took a short lead into the stretch, but the late runners were storming into contention
Alpha Bella, the 2.90-1 second choice, rallied to overtake Juniper’s Moon approaching deep stretch, and Mission of Joy was flying on the far outside. Mission of Joy kept charging to get up late, stopping the teletimer in 1:41.12 over the firm course.
Bred in Ontario by Sam-Son Farm, Mission of Joy is out of the Smart Strike mare Smart Mission, a half-sister to multiple Canadian champion Irish Mission and two other stakes winners. Mission of Joy sold for $32,000 as a yearling at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale.
Alpha Bella wound up 2 1/2 lengths clear of 28-1 Juniper’s Moon, who was three-quarters of a length better than 9-5 favorite Free Look, who closed belatedly for fourth from the back of the field. Allamericanbeauty, Faccia Bella, Ticker Tape Home, Stephanie’s Charm, Mohawk Trail, Grace Darling, Navy Goat, and Dreaming of Snow completed the order.
In the $100,000 Challenger (G3), multiple Grade 3 winner Skippylongstocking battled back to reward his backers as the 1-2 favorite, drawing away to a 3 1/4-length decision. The four-year-old colt tracked pacesetter Trademark until drawing even on the far turn, and he re-rallied after being passed in upper stretch by Surly Famous, retaking the lead and drawing off late with Irad Ortiz Jr.
Winner of the West Virginia Derby (G3) and third in the Belmont (G1) and Wood Memorial (G2), Skippylongstocking concluded his three-year-old season with a two-length victory in the Harlan’s Holiday (G3) at Gulfstream Park in late December. The Saffie Joseph Jr. trainee rebounded from a seventh in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) on Jan. 28, improving his career record to 16-5-1-3, and he increased his bankroll to $862,810.
Skippylongstocking, a son of Exaggerator, finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.52. Daniel Alonso campaigns the Kentucky-bred, a $37,000 purchase at the 2021 OBS spring two-year-old sale, and he was bred by Brushy Hill Farm. Skippylongstocking counts stakes winner Moonlight Strike as a half-brother, and both are out of the War Chant mare Twinkling.
Tax closed from just off the pace for second as 5.80-1 second choice, a head better than 26-1 Surly Famous. It was another 3 3/4 lengths to late-running Business Model, and Trademark, The Reds, and Mighty Heart came next.
Talk of the Nation confirmed himself as a rising presence in the three-year-old turf division with a convincing triumph in his stakes debut, the $75,000 Columbia. A four-length allowance scorer at Tampa when trying turf on Feb. 4, the Shug McGaughey-trained colt was bet down to 6-5 favoritism with leading rider Samy Camacho and stalked up close before offering a powerful turn of foot in the stretch, drawing off to win going away by 2 1/2 lengths.
The dark bay son of Quality Road completed a mile in 1:33.45, improving to 3-for-4 for Joseph Allen and breeder China Horse Club. Out of multiple Grade 2 turf winner She’s Not Here, a daughter of Street Cry, Talk of the Nation is from the immediate female family of Hall of Famer Zenyatta.
Mo Stash, making his first appearance since a fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), raced on the front end before easily holding for second, 3 1/4 lengths better than A Western Yarm. It was another half-length to Freedom Trail, who was followed by Summer Bee, Sendero, Smoke Lightening, Lights of Broadway, and Naga’s Boy.
The $400,000 Transylvania (G3), a 1 1/16-mile turf stakes on Keeneland’s opening-day April 7 program, will be an option for Talk of the Nation.