02/11/2017 6:20PM

Tapa Tapa Tapa wins Suncoast Stakes, emerges as Kentucky Oaks contender

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Tom Keyser
Tapa Tapa Tapa paid $21.40 in winning the Suncoast Stakes on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – The $55,000 Suncoast Stakes on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs was supposed to produce a starter for the Kentucky Oaks in May, but after Tapa Tapa Tapa’s front-running, three-length victory over 3-10 favorite Elate, there is a chance that it could produce two.

Tapa Tapa Tapa ($21.40), ridden by Jesus Castanon, led every step of the way to get her first stakes victory, with Elate unable to make up ground in the stretch after tracking the pace and settling for second. Tapa Tapa Tapa led the field of seven 3-year-old fillies through a quarter-mile in 23 seconds flat, a half-mile in 45.97, and six furlongs in a crisp 1:10.47, with Elate about two lengths back most of the way.

At the head of the lane, Tapa Tapa Tapa had a 2 1/2-length advantage, and Elate was never able to get closer as the winner stopped the clock in 1:39.91 for one mile and 40 yards on a fast track.

“The first jump, she took me right up front, and I didn’t want to take anything away from her, so I tried to play it by ear,” Castanon said. “Once I got to the quarter pole, I knew I still had a lot of horse, I let her pick it up and do her business.”

Winning trainer Tim Hamm said he wasn’t surprised that Tapa Tapa Tapa preserved her lead despite the quick fractions.

“She’s a good horse, and she ran awesome,” Hamm said. “She was coming off a layoff, I was hoping she’d have enough left, but it looked like she was going easy, so I was fairly confident.”

Tapa Tapa Tapa, a daughter of Tapit, is owned by Beau Ravine LLC. She won her maiden in her second start last July on Woodbine’s synthetic surface, then switched to the grass to win a first-level allowance. She then went unplaced in two graded stakes, finishing sixth on Woodbine’s turf course in the Grade 1 Natalma and seventh in the Grade 3 Jessamine on the Keeneland turf. For her career, she has three wins from six starts for $101,043 in earnings.

“She’s trained awesome on the dirt,” Hamm said. “We had her on turf and the synthetic over the summer, which was fine, but once we put her on the dirt, she’s really trained well.”

Elate, a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, is a homebred for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. The filly was produced by the Distorted Humor mare Cheery, who capped her career by winning the $60,000 American Beauty Stakes at Oaklawn Park in January 2013 to boost her earnings to $172,762.

Elate made her career debut in a one-mile race at Aqueduct on Nov. 26, scoring by 12 1/2 lengths in a $60,000 maiden special weight race and earning an 88 Beyer Speed Figure that stood out in the Suncoast field.

“She ran good,” jockey Jose Ortiz said. “The winner got loose on the lead, and my filly did everything she could. She was coming off a little layoff, and we’re very happy with the way she ran.”

Hamm and Elate’s trainer, Bill Mott, said they hadn’t picked out a next race for their fillies, but the Kentucky Oaks on May 5 is the goal.

“She ran well,” Mott said. “It was her first out. We had backed off of her. She was fresh and probably not cranked up totally. We wanted to get a race in her just because she lacks some experience – she’s only had one race – and I think we got some benefit out of this. I think we have a lot to look forward to. We got her a two-turn race on a very tiring track, and I think she should get something out of it.”

Elate finished 4 3/4 lengths ahead of R Angel Katelyn, who entered the race off three straight wins in sprint stakes. Rounding out the order of finish were Venus Serena, Livin a Dream, Belted, and Racy Embrace.