The Grade 3, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the turf and the $100,000 Suncoast, run over a mile and 40 yards on the main track, top a strong undercard for the 12-race Festival Day program at Tampa Bay Downs, which is highlighted by the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.
The Hillsborough, for older fillies and mares, could turn into a battle between two of the sport’s top trainers in Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown.
Pletcher unveiled Brazilian star Old Tune in the Grade 3 Endeavour Stakes here, sending out the 5-year-old mare to wire her field in the 1 1/16-mile race in her first start since April 2012.
That win marked Old Tune’s fifth straight win, and in a field that doesn’t include an overabundance of early speed, Old Tune may again dictate the pace Saturday.
But Brown has a double-barrelled threat in the form of Kya One and Forces of Darkness.
Kya One won the Grade 3 My Charmer Stakes at Calder in her final start of 2012 and was a troubled fourth in the Grade 3 Suwanee River at Gulfstream in her last race. The French-bred and -raced mare looks as though she’s acclimated herself well to U.S. racing, with three starts in this country under her belt.
Forces of Darkness, also from France, makes her 2013 and U.S. debut in the Hillsborough, and she certainly has the class to be a threat. Forces of Darkness finished third, beaten less than a length, in the Group 1 Prix Saint Alary at Longchamp last May and won the Group 3 Prix Minerve at Deauville last fall. Forces of Darkness was purchased by Martin Schwartz last November and was sent to Brown’s barn.
Brown, who trained Eclipse Award-winning turf mare Zagora last season, said both his entrants are “classy individuals, nice to be around, and both are training well.”
“As to Forces of Darkness, this is just her first step in what we hope will be a successful season,” Brown said. “She’s going to be turning back in distance from her races last season, and while we hope she’ll run well, this race is just a stepping-stone to some of our other objectives with her.”
Brown said Kya One had traffic problems in her last race and should be fitter for the Hillsborough while making her second start since November.
“She’s a nice filly who has given us three good, honest races in this country, and I look for a good effort from her Saturday,” he said.
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