Irad Ortiz Jr. and Skippylongstocking en route to G3 Challenger victory
Skippylongstocking rebounded with aplomb from a lackluster performance in his previous start when scoring a convincing victory in the $100,000 Michelob Ultra Challenger Stakes (G3) Saturday on the Festival Day card at Tampa Bay Downs.
The 4-year-old Exaggerator colt, seventh in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) January 28, was ready to win Saturday. He pressed early pacesetter Trademark from second, then took charge nearing the homestretch before longshot Surly Furious asserted himself along the rail. Knuckling down for Irad Ortiz Jr., Skippylongstocking battled back and kicked clear in the final furlong, scoring by 3¼ lengths.
Trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. for owner Daniel Alonso, Skippylongstocking returned $3 for the victory after covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.52.
Surly Furious, the longest shot in the field at 26-1, was narrowly denied second by Tax, who outfinished him by a head.
Bred in Kentucky by Brushy Hill from the War Chant mare Twinkling, Skippylongstocking improved his overall record to 5-1-3 from 16 starts and $862,810 in purse earnings.
Challenger Stakes Quotes
Winning trainer Saffie A. Joseph Jr.: “He looked pretty good the whole race and then at the top of the lane, the 5 (longshot Surly Furious) shot through and it scared me. I was worried (Skippylongstocking) wasn’t going to kick in, but Irad (Ortiz, Jr.) knew what he had and gave him a perfect trip. This is a consistent, hard-trying horse. He’s probably not a true Grade 1 horse, but he’s a very good Grade 3, Grade 2 horse, and maybe one day he might get the Grade 1 win he deserves. We threw a pretty hard campaign at him last year, and he bounced back from it and is still in good form.”
Winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.: “At that point (when Surly Furious grabbed the lead), I didn’t want to make the first move. When my horse made the lead, he kind of waited a little and I see the 5 moving inside, and I was so happy to see somebody . I know then (Skippylongstocking) would keep going, and at that point I didn’t move but when I asked him, he did really well.”
Ronnie Allen Jr., jockey on third-place finisher Surly Furious: “I got a little excited for a minute. He ran his butt off.”