Classic Car Wash all but guaranteed himself a spot in the $3 million Kentucky Derby when he finished a solid second in the Grade 2, $360,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs on March 11. The gelding had a very wide trip around the oval but still gained a narrow lead in the stretch before race favorite Tapit Trice unleashed a powerful rally from the back of the field to win by two lengths.
“I thought we were a winner,” said Mark Casse, Classic Car Wash’s Hall of Fame trainer. “I don’t even know where that other horse came from.”
Classic Car Wash earned 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for his runner-up finish. A month earlier, he had gained six points by finishing third in the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa. With 26 points, he ranked 11th among the 3-year-old thoroughbreds eyeing the first leg of the Triple Crown, and barring a string of upsets in the last round of Derby prep races, Classic Car Wash will have secured his spot.
Classic Car Wash was expected to make one more start before the Derby, either in the Grade 1, $1 million Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland or the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct — both on April 8.
Casse picked Classic Car Wash out of a sale of 2-year-olds in training in Ocala, Fla., in March 2022. He paid $105,000 for the horse on behalf of Hollywood movie producer Gary Barber, who’s owned many talented racehorses, including War of Will, the 2019 Preakness Stakes winner.
Barber asked longtime assistant Kim Buttlar to name the horse, and she thought of her late uncle, Fargo “Red” Hadayia, who had owned the Classic Car Wash location in West Roxbury, Mass. Hadayia also owned a few horses back in the day.
“I thought he was really something when we bought him,” Casse said of Classic Car Wash.
Classic Car Wash made his first three starts at Gulfstream Park in Florida, finishing fifth in his debut. “He got shuffled back, and things went wrong, but he rallied wide and ran fast, so I was pretty impressed,” Casse said. Classic Car Wash then stepped up to a first-level allowance race Jan. 6 and led from start to finish under jockey Emisael Jaramillo. His first stakes race, the Sam F. Davis, was next.
At 1 1/4 miles, the Derby will be the longest race any of its 3-year-olds have ever participated in, making it a stern test of stamina. Classic Car Wash has run well in two graded stakes at 1 1/16 miles, and Casse said he’s still improving. Classic Car Wash likely will be a long shot in the Derby, which had 16 million viewers last year, but he should at least give the car wash industry some free publicity and a good thrill during the run for the roses.
“He’s a horse who could move forward,” Casse said. “As he showed the other day, I don’t think the distance will be an issue.