03/17/2016 2:16PM

Tampa represents in Spectacular Bid

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Morning Fire wins the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, defeating Spectacular Bid rival Epic Journey.

By Mike Welsch

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Saturday’s $75,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream will have a distinctly Tampa Bay Downs flavor, with the three top contenders – Morning Fire, Epic Journey, and Tiger Blood – all shipping down for the 6 1/2-furlong dash.

The Spectacular Bid (race 11) is one of two stakes supporting the Grade 2 Inside Information. The other is the $75,000 Any Limit for 3-year-old fillies going six furlongs.

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Morning Fire and Epic Journey finished first and second in the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 23. Morning Fire overcame a bit of a slow start to set the pace en route to the first stakes victory of his career, while Epic Journey chased him throughout.

Trained by the Tampa-based Keith Nations, Morning Fire ran well while stretching out around two turns for the first time in his last start, finishing third behind the winner, Destin, in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa. Destin flattered the effort last Saturday by capturing the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.

The lightly raced Epic Journey continues to improve, earning a career-best 87 Beyer Speed Figure while making just the fourth start of his career in the Pasco. Trained by Anthony Granitz, Epic Journey has worked well for his local debut, with a pair of bullet drills at Tampa this month.

The biggest question in the Spectacular Bid is how good is Tiger Blood? He has won his two starts by a combined 14 3/4 lengths and, like Morning Fire, has shown a high turn of speed. A potential speed duel between them could be in the offing Saturday.

A hot pace might favor Dan the Go to Man, whose last start also came at Tampa, a second-place finish behind Kentucky Derby candidate Outwork in a six-furlong allowance dash Feb. 13. Bullet Gone Astray also would benefit if the pacesetters tire.

:: Gulfstream: Buy PPs, watch Saturday’s card live

KEY CONTENDERS

Morning Fire, by Friesan Fire

Last 3 Beyers: 82-90-77

◗ Daniel Centeno, Tampa’s second-leading rider, rides him for the third straight time in the Spectacular Bid.

Epic Journey, by J P’s Gusto

Last 3 Beyers: 87-79-58

◗ Pablo Morales will give up the mount on Tiger Blood to remain loyal to Epic Journey.

Tiger Blood, by Cowtown Cat

Beyers: 77-91

◗ With Morales named to ride Epic Journey, trainer Baltazar Galvan has given the call to the red-hot Julien Leparoux.

Any Limit: Caren in 2016 bow

Only six fillies were assembled for the Any Limit Stakes, including Caren, a Sovereign Award finalist for Canada’s champion 2-year-old filly of 2015.

Caren is a four-time stakes winner whose only loss in six starts as a juvenile came in the Grade 2 Natalma on turf. She will face a lineup that includes the Stanley Gold-trained duo of Ballet Diva and Silent Prayer, along with Playa Zaragoza, Put Da Blame On Me, and Colombian Queen.

Caren has not started since Nov. 1 and will make her first start on dirt in the Any Limit. Her previous main-track starts came over the Polytrack at Woodbine.

“It’s going to be a new thing, but she’s breezed well enough on it,” said trainer Mike De Paulo. “But until you run, you never know.”

Ballet Diva is a three-time stakes winner but has dropped her last three decisions. Among those losses were third-place finishes here in the Grade 3 Old Hat and Grade 2 Forward Gal.