Two-year-olds, two-year-olds, and more two-year-olds will be in action when picturesque Tampa Bay Downs begins its 91-day meeting on Saturday. Headlining the Lambholm South Cotillion Festival Day card, which is devoted completely to the juveniles, will be a pair of $75,000 stakes going six furlongs on the main track. While the fillies will get their chance a bit later in the card in the Sandpiper Stakes, it will be the males who provide the most interesting matchup of the afternoon when Brave Dave and Purple Egg faceoff in the Inaugural Stakes, which is carded as the day’s fourth race.
Brave Dave is listed as the 6-5 favorite, and taking a look at his first five races, it is easy to see why. A Florida-bred son of Put It Back, he has done nothing but flaunt his generous early speed in amassing four wins in only five starts to begin his career. After winning his debut in front-running fashion over a pair of next-out winners on the last day of June, his connections wasted no time in testing his class. Shipping from his Miami base to Upstate New York, Brave Dave faced big time competition in the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes. He may have
finished fourth that day, but after battling through blazing early fractions, his 3 ½ length loss to the highly regarded Bern Identity is nothing in which to be ashamed.
He comes into Saturday’s race off another wire job two weeks ago in the Jack Price Juvenile Stakes at Calder. The victory marked his third consecutive stakes victory, including a score in the Grade 3 Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park in early September. In all three of these stakes wins, Brave Dave went right to the early lead and proved untouchable from there. Things could get a little tougher for the Edward Plesa, Jr. trained colt, though, as among his five rivals in the opening day affair is a very highly regarded colt with a rather strange name.
Purple Egg has turned many a head in his first two career races, but getting him that far was not a completely comfortable path. Trained by Jane Cibelli, the son of 2004 Kentucky Derby runner-up Lion Heart, had to be scratched on two occasions at the starting gate because he behaved so badly. Finally making it through the starting gate on August 23 at Monmouth Park, Purple Egg may have been a little bit less of a man, but proved to be a whole lot more race horse. Prompting the fast early pace from the outside, he took over on the turn and drew off to win by nearly five lengths while running a fast five furlongs at the New Jersey track. A little more than three weeks later, and on the other side of the Delaware River, Purple Egg reinforced his impressive debut with another easy score, annexing a Parx allowance race at six furlongs by 6 ¾ lengths.
Interestingly, Purple Egg will have a strong rooting interest at Tampa Bay, as the track’s media maven, Margo Flynn, is one of the several partners that make up the Goodwood Racing II team who own the unbeaten gelding. Purple Egg has had a pair of solid works since arriving on the Gulf Coast a few weeks ago, in preparation for his showdown with Brave Dave.
Seeing these two talented juveniles square off should be a great way for the 87th season of Tampa Bay Downs to kick off. Hghlighting this year’s meet will be the track’s annual Festival Day on March 9, which includes a pair of races that generally come up strong in the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby and the Grade 3, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes. If you’ve never been to the Oldsmar oval, I highly recommend you make the trip.
Photos courtesy of Coady Photography and Equi-Photo