02/09/2017 1:16PM

Bondurant seeks breakout win in Tampa Bay Stakes

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Bondurant is set to make his 4-year-old debut in Saturday's Tampa Bay Stakes.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – It will be a family affair Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, and not just because Janis Whitham will be here from Kansas with many of her kinfolk to watch her star homebred, McCraken, try to stay unbeaten in the Sam F. Davis Stakes.

There’s also a family connection for McCraken: His older half-brother, Bondurant, will make the first start in what trainer Ian Wilkes hopes will be a breakthrough season.

“He’s a really nice horse,” Wilkes said. “He’s gotten a lot done in a short amount of time.”

Bondurant will be among the favorites in a competitive 31st running of the Grade 3, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes, which directly precedes the Sam F. Davis as the ninth of 12 Saturday races on Festival Preview Day. The Tampa Bay and its sister race, the Endeavour Stakes, both will be run at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

Bondurant, a 4-year-old colt by War Front, and McCraken (by Ghostzapper) are the first two foals to race from the 11-year-old Whitham mare Ivory Empress. While it behooves Wilkes to keep McCraken on dirt as a major hope for the 143rd Kentucky Derby, he felt Bondurant’s potential was on turf, given that War Front has emerged as one of the world’s top grass sires.

Using a powerful stretch kick, Bondurant has won three of his six starts and just missed becoming a graded stakes winner in November at Churchill Downs when overtaken on the wire by Hay Dakota, the longshot winner of the Commonwealth Turf.

“He’s trained very well since then,” said Wilkes, who arrived here Wednesday from his Palm Meadows winter base across the Florida peninsula. “We’re really excited about what kind of year he might have.”

Brian Hernandez Jr. will be aboard when Bondurant breaks from post 8 in a field of 10.

Catapult (post 6, Jose Ortiz), another 4-year-old shipping in from Palm Meadows, could rule the public choice in the Tampa Bay after winning the ungraded Gio Ponti in November at Aqueduct in his final start at 3. His trainer, Chad Brown, continues to win graded races in bunches, and the colt’s Beyer Speed Figures (95 in each of his last two starts) match up favorably in here.

Among the notable older horses in the lineup are Kaigun (post 7, no rider), an earner of more than $1.4 million from 32 career starts, and Kasaqui (post 3, Robby Albarado), the runner-up in the 2016 Arlington Million.

Kasaqui, a 7-year-old Argentine-bred, got about 40 days at an Ocala, Fla., farm before returning here to the care of trainer Ignacio Correas.

“He is training like he can win,” Correas said. “I’m not thinking that’s the most important thing because this is his first start of the year, but yes, he is such a good horse that it would not surprise me.”

Post time for the Tampa Bay Stakes is 4:15 p.m. Eastern.

Endeavour field evenly matched

The Endeavour Stakes (race 11, post 5:15) was supposed to be where the mighty Tepin began her 6-year-old campaign. It was a blueprint that worked to perfection last year: Tepin won the Endeavour en route to a second straight Eclipse Award for outstanding turf mare.

Alas, a minor bout with colic last weekend forced trainer Mark Casse to put his 2017 plans for Tepin on hold. That development robbed the Grade 3, $150,000 Endeavour of its star power, but the good news is that the race came up with a deep and well-matched field that horseplayers can appreciate.

Isabella Sings (post 5, John Velazquez), in from Palm Beach Downs for Todd Pletcher, surely will be the one to catch. The chestnut mare has become a multiple stakes winner by using extreme tactics, sailing off to big open leads and daring all to come get her.

And sometimes they do. If Isabella Sings comes back to the field, the most likely to catch her include Light In Paris (post 1, Daniel Centeno), a last-out allowance winner for Brown over the local course; Evidently (post 6, Robby Albarado), a graded stakes winner two back whose owner, Lambholm South, is the title sponsor of this race; and Frosty Friday (post 11, Julien Leparoux), subbing in for Casse off a sharp runner-up effort in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf.

Eleven fillies and mares are entered in this 18th running of the Endeavour, although at least two, Elysea’s World and No Fault of Mine, are said by their respective connections to likely scratch.

Both the Tampa Bay and Endeavour are key links in multirace wagers that also include the Sam Davis and end with a $16,000 maiden-claiming event (race 12). Those are the late pick five (races 8-12) and late pick four (races 9-12), both with 50-cent minimums.