01/27/2011 4:27PM

C C's Pal tops deep field in Tampa's Manatee Stakes

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C C’S Pal, who in her last local appearance finished second in the 2010 Florida Oaks, makes her 2011 debut at Tampa Bay Downs Saturday when she tops a deep and talented field of 11 fillies and mares in the $50,000 Manatee Stakes at seven furlongs.

Rosemary Homeister Jr. will handle C C’s Pal for trainer Derek Ryan in the Manatee, the first of two stakes for older fillies and mares at this meeting. The $50,000 Wayward Lass completes the series and will be contested at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 26.

“She’s been training right along, and we’re pleased with her progress since we gave her a little break,” Ryan said. “I was pleased with her gate work the other day, and she’s already shown she likes to race over this surface, so we’re cautiously optimistic she’ll run good Saturday.”

The Manatee shapes up as an excellent betting race, with several in the field sporting top credentials, including My Irish Girl, Choragus, Hyperlink, and Miss Charm City.

My Irish Girl and Choragus finished second and third in a three-horse photo in the six-furlong Minaret on Jan. 1. Hyperlink was a sharp winner over tough allowance sprinters at Gulfstream last out, and Miss Charm City is a winner of four of six lifetime while racing exclusively at Laurel.

C C’s Pal made her first start of 2010 against males at Tampa, finishing third behind Schoolyard Dreams, who went on to finish second in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Purchased by Eric Fein, who also owns Schoolyard Dreams, after that race, C C’s Pal made her first start for Ryan in the Suncoast Stakes and finished seventh, beaten less than five lengths after a troubled trip. She came back in the Oaks and turned in one of the better efforts of her career, slipping through along the inside to challenge for the lead a furlong out before settling for second behind heavily favored Diva Delite at odds of 21-1.

She finished third in the Grade  3 Comely, beaten just a length, and was third again in the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks and second in the $100,000 Serena’s Song, also at Monmouth. Although she won just once at age 3, C C’s Pal earned $185,136 in 10 starts.

C C’s Pal has been training forwardly for her return, including a bullet half-mile drill in 48 seconds from the gate Sunday.

My Irish Girl was unlucky not to win the Minaret as she was caught wide in that sprint and then closed stoutly – despite having her rider lose his whip in the drive – to fall a nose short of Stormy Publisher. A winner of seven of 11 lifetime starts, My Irish Girl should appreciate the added distance of the Manatee.

Another who figures to like the seven furlongs of the Manatee is Choragus. She closed like a shot from next to last in the 12-horse Minaret to be third, beaten a diminishing neck, and was third in last year’s Manatee after a troubled trip. She also ran second here in last season’s Wayward Lass.