02/28/2013 1:19PM

Tampa Bay: Prospective heavy favorite in Challenger Stakes

Coady Photography
Prospective closed out his 3-year-old campaign with a win in the $150,000 Delta Mile.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – This time last year Mark Casse was preparing a promising 3-year-old named Prospective for the Tampa Bay Derby with hopes the big, strapping colt would prove to be Triple Crown material.

Prospective, with blinkers added, won the Tampa Bay Derby and eventually did make the Run for the Roses, but a bad trip eliminated any chance Prospective may have had.

On Saturday Prospective will make his 4-year-old debut as the strong favorite in a field of eight older runners, including an entry, in the $60,000 Challenger Stakes. Casse is hoping the 1 1/16-mile race will be the first step toward Prospective establishing himself as one of the better older runners in the country.

“He’s a big, tough, strong colt who just loves to run,” Casse said from his Palm Meadows hedquarters, “and he’s been training well. While obviously this is the first step for him this year, and he may be a bit less than on his “A” game, I think he’ll run well.”

While many horses are knocked out from the Derby experience and a good many have never won another race after the grueling mile and a quarter Derby, Prospective came back six weeks after the race and won his next two starts, the Victoria Park Stakes at Woodbine and the Grade 3 Ohio Derby at Thistledown.

Prospective wound up winning five of 10 outings last season and earned more than $544,000. The Challenger will be his first start since he won the $150,000 Delta Mile at Delta Downs in November.

“We gave him a bit of time after that race and he’s come back to train great,” Casse said. “As long as the track’s not muddy or sloppy I think he’ll run well. Tampa is a kind track that we know he likes, so we’re cautiously optimistic.”

Ian Wilkes has a pair entered in the Challenger, a race he won last season with eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned. One is Nicklaus Way, who will be moving to a stakes in search of his fourth straight win and deserves a long look. Meowser, who has been second and third here against tough company at a mile and 40 yards, is also trained by Wilkes.

Marty Wolfson sends out Thank U Philippe, who has two wins from as many starts over the Tampa strip this meeting.

Shellback, from the Gerry Bennett barn, held a clear lead into the final furlong of a race won by Thank U Philippe before weakening to finishing fourth in his first start since September. Elevated to third through disqualification in that race, Shellback figures to be fitter for the Challenger.