The Challenger Stakes (Grade 3)- $100.000 Purse
TAM- For Four Year Olds and Upward
One Mile and One Sixteenth on the Dirt
March 12, 2022
A field of eleven will be heading to the starting gate for The Challenger Stakes as a part of the TAM Derby undercard. This is a smaller Grade 3, and it is only the third year that has run as a graded stake. It first appeared in 2005 as ungraded, and was only a $65.000 race back then. Last year, Heretowinthisfight lived up to his name in the race, and for the horse that ran fourth in the BC Classic the year prior, it would be the final victory of his career. Iolaus Racing was the winning trainer and has been using him in the shed since the third quarter began last year. Let’s take a look at the eleven going to post here on Saturday.
#1- Just Wanna Blaze (Gdp Inc., ridden by Ru Gonzalez)- Ran in the Pegasus World Cup for his last race, and finished fourth in it to start off the year. It’s a promising beginning for a gelding that ran second in the BC Dirt Mile and the PA Derby late last year. His resume certainly has nothing wrong with it, but you have to wonder just a little bit, why a $100.000 stake and not something bigger?
#2- Antonym (Mb Stables, ridden by E Jaramillo)- THis will be the 53rd start for this eight year old, a gelding that took off after he was claimed by Mb Stables for $25.000 last February. You have to ask, how good could this horse have been if he didn’t run exclusively at the free track from April 2018 until being claimed by Mb? Won the CT Classic last Summer as his career highlight to this point. Such a great find by Mb.
#3- Cp Dark Pain (Threshold, ridden by S X Bridgmohan)- After writing about fillies and mares in graded stakes a lot lately, Threshold decides he’s gonna give it a shot as well. Cp Dark Pain has tried running against the boys a couple times in his career, and his last time doing so was a disappointing result in the TAA Stakes(Grade 2) at DMR. Stymied me by winning her last start, but did run very well in the LAPN Distaff, showing she should bounce back into graded competition.
#4- Shoot To Kill (Night Rider Stables, ridden by R Bowen)- Has won just twice in his fifteen starts, but has been much better hitting the board, doing that nine times. Even then not being in the top three, he’s either fourth or narrowly missing it, so that consistency led him to make his stake debut six weeks ago at AQU in the Jazil. He was third there, and hopes for similar if not better here.
#5- Mintmach (Nakamura Stables, ridden by M J Sanchez)- Ran in some top graded stakes over his career, including the Whitney in 2020, but never found the consistency he needed to be a threat at that level. In fact, he was a poster child for an inconsistent horse while with Nolespan Racing, and that led to him being put in the $35.000 claimer that Nakamura pulled him out of. He has raced twice for his new trainer, not surprisingly with a win and a time missing the board, but that race was much better. Interested to see how he fares under this new guidance.
#6- Cherokee Twins (TwinTowersRacing, ridden by J R Velazquez)- In 22 starts, this five year old has only managed two wins, but it has not stopped the trainer from entering him at this level time and time again. Several times, he has failed to even be within five lengths of the winner, so it is hard to be excited about him. This is a drop down from races he has been in, but even in the Grade 3 Toboggan, he did not excite.
#7- Jolly Rook (Angelos Stable, ridden by J C Ferrer)- This is the biggest earner in the race, making over $1,700.000 for his career. A stretch in 2020 got him a lot of that, where he won the Haskell and Travers back to back, putting his name on the radar of the best horses in the game then. He might not be in that category anymore, but he is not dropped off the face of the virtual earth, either. Won the $100.000 Tiznow, for CA-breds, three weeks ago and can build on that here.
#8- Ginger Sand (The Sidley Stud, ridden by M Franco)- The gelding has run well against NY-breds over his career, and that kicked off a three race winning streak in the summer that also saw him win the Grade 3 Longacres Mile. He’s only made three starts since then, and his last two are not all that exciting, especially as he faces some of the foes he meets here.
#9- Baptisted By Fire (Mo Mentum Farm, ridden by A A Gallardo)- Our second female in the race, this six year old mare with the name pun towards something has spent much of her career running in claimers until she arrived at Choppy Inc. He got her moving forward, and now Mo Mentum Farm has continued that, with an ungraded stake win, and hitting the board in a couple graded races. Has never tried running against males but that is all the rage right now.
#10- Bob Mueller (TwinTowersRacing, ridden by D Davis)- In 26 starts, this five year old has made just three trips to the winners circle, but like his stablemate, he keeps running at this level as the trainer has confidence in him. Combined, that’s five wins in 48 starts. Now that I mention that, maybe they will dead heat for the win. More often than not, he’s near the back at the end, so we’ll see which TwinTowers horse beats the other. Could we bet on that?
#11- Hang Around (Nakamura Stables, ridden by D E Centeno)- Let’s just forget his last race never happened. Before that, he was strong and consistent, with back to back wins in the Durham Cup and the Autumn Stakes at WO. Maybe the Razorback Handicap was just too much for him, and I feel good about him successfully bouncing back with a strong run here. Maybe not a win, but I would be surprised if he was not top three.