Stanford drops in class for Challenger Stakes

OLDSMAR, Fla. -- Hey, Stanford, what the heck are you doing here, man?

Stanford, a millionaire and two-time graded stakes winner, should be an odds-on favorite against six other older horses in the $100,000 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday. It's a significant step down in class for Stanford, who had run in five consecutive graded stakes before finishing second, beaten a head by Imperative, as the 3-5 favorite in the $400,000 Poseidon Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Stanford won the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic last April and the Grade 3 Harlan's Holiday Stakes last December. The Harlan's Holiday made him 2 for 3 with a second-place finish at the 1 1/16-mile distance of the Challenger. Stanford had a short lead late in the 1 1/8-mile Poseidon before just failing to outfight Imperative in a stretch duel.

Stanford earned a 103 Beyer Speed Figure in the Poseidon, the highest last-race mark in Saturday's field. Still, Pletcher sees room for improvement.

"We're going to try blinkers on for this race," Pletcher said. "[Jockey John Velazquez] said he may have lost focus right at the end of the Poseidon when he saw the photographers along the rail, and that cost him momentum and maybe even cost us the race. The timing and distance of this race is excellent toward the Charles Town Classic, which is our early-season goal with him."

The field also includes Blofeld, who won the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap last year and returned from a layoff of more than six months to finish seventh in that race Feb. 11. The horse has finished off the board in four consecutive starts, all in graded stakes, for trainer Rusty Arnold.

Adirondack King, trained by John Servis, will try to snap a five-race losing streak since winning the Challenger last year. He returned from a layoff of almost seven months to finish a good second to the stakes winner Mr Palmer in a rich optional claimer at Aqueduct last month. The field also includes the Argentine Group 1 stakes winner Idolo Porteno, who hasn't raced since finishing a well-beaten second to Noble Bird in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special last May.

Ten signed up for Columbia Stakes

Saturday's card features five consecutive stakes races beginning with race 7, the $75,000 Columbia Stakes, which drew a field of 10 3-year-olds going a mile on the grass. Among the contenders is Bird's Eye View, who will be making his 2017 debut after finishing third in the Grade 2 With Anticipation and the Grade 3 Bourbon as a juvenile.

Trainer Mike Dini said he was pleased with the workout turned in by Bird's Eye View here last Saturday, when he went five furlongs in 1:01.40 with Grade 3 Florida Oaks contender Dynatail.

"He was under a stranglehold next to her," Dini said. "He seems a lot better than last year. He's maturing."

Tiz a Slam will be racing for the first time since winning the restricted Cup and Saucer Stakes at Woodbine last October for trainer Roger Attfield. The Tiznow colt has been training steadily at Payson Park.

"I gave him a little more time off than I really anticipated, so I'm a little behind my original schedule," Attfield said. "I just think he needed a bit more time. He's a growing, immature-type horse, and he ran four times last year anyway. I thought this was a nice place to start back. He's in good shape but probably not quite 100 percent fit."

-- additional reporting by Marty McGee