OLDSMAR, Fla. -- When Fifty Five made her stakes debut in the Grade 3 Sweetest Chant last month at Gulfstream Park, she was clearly moving best at the end, surging from last place to finish a fast-closing third, beaten three-quarters of a length. On Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, Fifty Five once again found herself at the back of the pack early, but this time, she didn't run out of real estate.
Under jockey Jose Ortiz, Fifty Five ($10.20) rallied down the center of the turf course to catch 4-5 favorite La Coronel in the final yards and prevail by a neck in the Grade 3, $155,000 Florida Oaks. It was another half-length back to Compelled in third, and she was followed by Dynatail, Super Marina, Daddys Lil Darling, Valentine Wish, and Like a Hurricane.
Fifty Five was last in the field of eight 3-year-old fillies as Like a Hurricane set a pace of 22.83 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 46.90 for the half-mile, with Dynatail in closest pursuit. La Coronel and Fifty Five advanced outside down the backstretch and both were forced wide around the far turn, with La Coronel making a four-wide move and Fifty Five advancing between rivals three wide.
At the head of the lane, La Coronel had a half-length lead, but Fifty Five was on the move. La Coronel, with Florent Geroux aboard, fought hard down the stretch but could not outlast Fifty Five, who finished the 1 1/16-mile race on firm turf in 1:41.60. The time was a stakes record, bettering the mark of 1:41.89 set in 2013 by Tapicat.
"The trainer said, 'Just stay patient, and when you ask her for run, she's going to give you a big run today,' " Ortiz said. "I just tried to follow the 5 horse [La Coronel]. I knew she was going to be tough. As soon as we passed the eighth pole, I knew we had a decent chance to win because I hit my filly and she responded really, really well."
Fifty Five, a New York-bred daughter of Get Stormy, is a homebred for Empire Equines LLC and is trained by Thomas Bush. She has three wins and two third-place finishes in five career starts for $162,600 in earnings. She capped her juvenile season with a statebred maiden special weight win at Aqueduct in November and began her 3-year-old season with a first-level allowance win at Gulfstream on Jan. 1 to earn a shot in the Sweetest Chant.
Bush said he wasn't concerned Saturday when he saw his filly trailing again in the early going.
"She did move up down the backside with the rest of the field, so I knew she was in pretty good shape," he said. "It looked like obviously the horse on the lead had to come back, and she got herself in a good spot around the five-eighths pole where she wasn't so, so far out of it, so I knew she had a chance from there. She's improved every time we've run her, so you can't ask any more than that from a horse."
La Coronel was favored while making her first start since finishing sixth, beaten 3 1/4 lengths, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita in November. She was marooned in post 13 in that race. Prior to that, she had scored a 4 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Jessamine at Keeneland in October to stamp herself as the Breeders' Cup favorite.
Mark Casse, who trains La Coronel for John C. Oxley, said he was pleased with the filly's first start off a layoff.
"She ended up so wide, and then she dug in," Casse said. "She's a really, really good filly."