2018 Tampa Bay Derby Preview

Picks and Ponderings makes its second road trip of the Chicago off-season, as we'll be live at Tampa Bay Downs for the meet's flagship race.  Make sure to follow us (and follow NN) on Twitter for all the news, notes, and updates on race day!  This preview will delve into the day's feature, and we will also provide selections for all of the day's stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in a grid.  Of course, make sure to catch our previews of the weekend's other three-year-old preps as well: the Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct, the San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita, and the Honeybee Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn.

Saturday marks the 38th running of the Tampa Bay Derby, whose $400,000 purse makes it the richest race of the season at Tampa Bay Downs.  In addition, it offers Road to the Kentucky Derby Points to its top four finishers -- 50, 20, 10, and 5 to the horses placed first through fourth, functionally punching its winner's ticket to the Derby and going a long way to get its second-place finisher there.

Only one winner of the Tampa Bay Derby has parlayed that win into Kentucky Derby glory. Street Sense, coming off a championship juvenile season, made his three-year-old debut in the 2007 Tampa Bay Derby. Engaged in a stretch duel with Any Given Saturday, he prevailed by a hard-fought nose. After landing on the wrong side of a similarly close photo in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, Street Sense rode the rail to victory in Louisville. One other horse who has hit the board in the Tampa Bay Derby has won the roses: Super Saver, 2010 Kentucky Derby winner, opened his three-year-old season by finishing third behind Odysseus in this race.


Street Sense gets his nose down over Any Given Saturday to win the 2007 Tampa Bay Derby.

In the last two years, the Tampa Bay Derby has proved fertile ground for Belmont runners.  Two years ago, winner Destin finished second in the longest race of the Triple Crown, as the Todd Pletcher trainee was just nosed out by Creator.  Last year, Tapwrit did one better for the Pletcher barn come June, edging clear to claim the Belmont.

Tampa Bay Downs: Saturday, March 10

Race 11: Tampa Bay Derby (G2), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:20pm EST

The Tampa Bay Derby drew a field of 11, though both FREE DROP BILLY and ENTICED are expected to run in the Gotham instead, as long as a scheduled flight from Florida to New York flies as expected on March 8.  Should weather make it impossible for them to get to Aqueduct, we will reassess the Tampa Bay Derby with both of them in the picture.  For now, we take this race as a field of nine, figuring FREE DROP BILLY and ENTICED will get north.

VINO ROSSO tried stakes company for the first time in the Sam F. Davis (G3), the local prep for this race.  Third behind FLAMEAWAY that day, he ran wide through much of the race, and kicked on like a rocket in the final sixteenth.  One must wonder if he would have won the race had he kicked on a bit sooner.  Here, jockey John Velazquez has the benefit of that experience.  VINO ROSSO also has a right to improve between the addition of blinkers and the position of this race as his second off a little freshening.  With strong form over a love-it-or-hate-it Tampa surface, and with tactical speed that should suit the race, VINO ROSSO looks strong here.

There is a decent amount of speed in this race.  WORLD OF TROUBLE stands to be up front, FLAMEAWAY's more recent efforts have been of a frontrunning style, and QUIP, CALORIC, and GRANDPA KNOWS BEST have also shown speed at turns.  That suggests a pace somewhere between honest and sharp could develop, giving TIZ MISCHIEF a better chance than he had in his last prep: a well-beaten third behind Audible in the Holy Bull (G2).  As long as he takes to the footing, he should get a fairer shake as a closer at Tampa than he did at Gulfstream Park.  And, the Holy Bull was TIZ MISCHIEF's first race since the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last November.  Second off the lay he should be tighter, and he should improve.

Beyond VINO ROSSO and TIZ MISCHIEF, there are a few others who could have appeal.  UNTAMED DOMAIN has class to spare, but he needs even a step up from his turf form to contest here on dirt.  Perhaps sleeping on Graham Motion may turn out foolish, but others appeal more.  WORLD OF TROUBLE has the Tampa dirt form, as he won the Pasco so easily last out.  He stretches to two turns for the first time here -- a 28% winning move for trainer John Servis.  But, WORLD OF TROUBLE's pedigree seems better suited for one turn, not two.  This race is worth a try, and he may just be a monster, but he will be overbet for a horse who this space sees as most likely to find his niche going the seven furlongs of the Pasco.

FLAMEAWAY, the winner of the Sam F. Davis, appeals most of the rest.  He has proven form at Tampa, and proven form going a mile and a sixteenth.  Though the race drew no shortage of speed, his two-year-old form suggests he can rate a bit off the pace if he needs.  And, even if he ends up on a contested pace?  His victories in both the Kitten's Joy and the Davis prove that FLAMEAWAY can and will fight with every sinew of his body.  With all that going for him, he has a right to be a factor once again.

Selections:

#3 VINO ROSSO (4/1)

#2 TIZ MISCHIEF (8/1)

#5 FLAMEAWAY (3/1)

Longshot:  #4 GRANDPA KNOWS BEST (20/1) makes his first start since winning an allowance at Churchill last November.  That allowance, his first two-turn try, came at the same mile and a sixteenth trip as today's race.  GRANDPA KNOWS BEST's running style suits this race; he has shown speed, but he rated off the pace in that allowance win, and gutted it out down the lane.  The question is the lay, as trainer Ken McPeek is hit-or-miss with horses coming in off of layoffs.  But, with regular works through February, he could be fit.  On form, he doesn't need much improvement from his late two-year-old form to be a factor here, making GRANDPA KNOWS BEST the most intriguing among the price horses in this race.

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This chart will feature Nicolle Neulist's picks for Saturday's stakes races at Tampa Bay Downs; selections will be added as they handicap the card. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment or tweet us at @picksponderings!

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