A clash many expected would come later in the spring at a more high-profile venue will instead occur much earlier, Saturday in fact, when champion juvenile filly Wonder Wheel and the regally-bred Julia Shining square off in the $150,000 Suncoast S. at Tampa Bay Downs.
The one-mile and 40-yard Suncoast will mark the season debut for both fillies, who have their eyes on the Kentucky Oaks (G1) in May. The Suncoast will offer Oaks qualifying points of 20-8-6-4-2 to the respective top five finishers.
Wonder Wheel, who breaks from post 1, was last seen dominating the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Keeneland in November by three lengths. That title-clinching performance from off the pace followed a tight photo-finish win in the Alcibiades (G1) over the same track in wire-to-wire style, so the daughter of Into Mischief is proven as a versatile sort.
In contrast, Julia Shining, who breaks farthest outside in post 9, has tended to start slow and turn in her best running late. A full sister to the recently retired dual champion Malathaat, who won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks, Julia Shining needed virtually every yard of the 1 1/8-mile Demoiselle (G2) at Aqueduct in early December to get up by a neck, though the sloppy conditions might have worked a lot against her. Julia Shining had previously won on debut around one turn at Keeneland, though that race also came back rather slow on the clock.
The remainder of the Suncoast field would appear to need significant improvement to spring an upset. Among those taking their chance are Opus Forty Two and Charlie’s Wish, who finished noses apart when first and second, respectively, in the seven-furlong Gasparilla S. at Tampa last month.
In addition to Wonder Wheel, Mark Casse has also entered Ticker Tape Home, who makes her debut on dirt after finishing a close second against males in the Display S. at Woodbine in November.