Something about the $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes (G3) brings out the best in trainer Shug McGaughey’s horses.
After winning the race three times in four years from 2016-2019, McGaughey sent one of his stable stars to Tampa Bay Downs for Saturday’s 38th edition of the 1 1/16-mile event, run as the Tampa Bay Stakes In Memory of John Reading, the late two-time leading Oldsmar trainer.
Despite credentials that included a Grade 3 victory last spring at Pimlico and a third-place finish in the Bowling Green (G2) in July at Saratoga, 6-year-old Never Explain had to work for it Saturday. Under a patient yet aggressive ride from Vincent Cheminaud, Never Explain took the lead in deep stretch and held on for a half-length victory from Running Bee, with Siege of Boston a nose back in third.
Never Explain’s time of 1:40.03 was .78 seconds off Emmanuel’s stakes record of 1:39.35 set last year.
Besides being McGaughey’s record fourth victory in the race, the trainer improved to 7-for-14 at Tampa Bay Downs this season. But the spotlight fell deservedly on Never Explain, a son of Street Sense out of the Forestry mare Black Oak who improved to 6-for-20 lifetime.
Bred by Hidden Brook Farm and Godolphin, Never Explain, was foaled and raised at the historic Hidden Brook nursery in Paris, Kentucky before going through the ring with Hidden Brook at the 2018 Keeneland November sale. He is owned by Donald Adam’s Courtlandt Farms.
After Never Explain’s pulsating victory, accomplished in come-from-behind fashion, Cheminaud jogged back to the jockeys’ room to make sure he made his flight connections. He found time, though, to praise his horse and the connections during the sprint.
“My horse was beautiful. I had the best chance, and he finished well, so I’m very happy,” Cheminaud said. “We had a very good trip today.”
Reeve McGaughey, deputized by his father to handle saddling duties, was more expansive, including comments on the advantage of drawing the No. 1 post and having Cheminaud aboard.
“I kind of liked the inside post today,” the younger McGaughey said. “Going around those turns it will keep them a little closer naturally, and Vince did a great job because he never lost ground the whole way around the racetrack. That probably was the difference between winning and finishing second or third.”
With the Tampa Bay Stakes being Never Explain’s first race since Sept. 9, it was fair to ask if he had sufficient seasoning to hold off the maturing Chad Brown-trained Running Bee. The Kentucky-bred winner, who has been breezing religiously at McGaughey’s Payson Park Training Center base in Indiantown for his return, answered in the affirmative.
“We expected him to run well, and he held to it,” Reeve McGaughey said. “At this point in his career, he always shows up and then it’s a matter of whether he is good enough.”
-edited Tampa Bay Downs press release