2015 Tampa Bay Derby Preview

Saturday marks the 35th running of the Tampa Bay Derby.  The top four finishers from the Sam F. Davis Stakes (GIII), the local prep, line up for this race as well.  Between that and the return of runaway Breeders’ Futurity (GI) winner Carpe Diem, the race drew a stiff field.  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 nose photo in the Blue Grass, 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.

In addition to the Tampa Bay Derby, there is no shortage of other racing going on around the country.  Paul Mazur and I collaborated to look at the Big Cap Day stakes races at Santa Anita, a card that includes two Grade I races and another Derby prep in the San Felipe Stakes (GII).  Paul also looks at the two other points races this weekend Derby points are up for grabs at Aqueduct in the Gotham Stakes (GIII), and fillies can punch their ticket to the Kentucky Oaks in the Honeybee Stakes (GIII).

This year’s renewal of the Tampa Bay Derby offers a $350,000 purse, as well as 50, 20, 10, and 5 Road to the Kentucky Derby points for the top four finishers.

Street Sense beats out Any Given Saturday in the 2007 Tampa Bay Derby.

Race 11, Tampa Bay Derby (GII), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:23 pm EST

Most of the talk about the Tampa Bay Derby being the OCEAN KNIGHT versus CARPE DIEM showdown, some seem to forget there are other horses in this race.  Though that pair is the class of the field, the more interesting question to the race involves just how good DIVINING ROD’s second-place finish in the Sam F. Davis was.  The argument that OCEAN KNIGHT ran a significantly better race than DIVINING ROD did that day has merit, given the extra distance he overcame due to the wide draw.  OCEAN KNIGHT drew far better this time, and should be able to outrun him unless he regresses or DIVINING ROD freaks.

Where this becomes interesting is when looking at who else drew into the race.  CARPE DIEM comes into this race for his three-year-old debut.  He showed strength in his three two-year-old starts: he is a fast horse who can win from right on or from far off the pace.  Though he has been off the racetrack for about four months, trainer Todd Pletcher has a history of sending his best three-year-olds fit and ready for that first Derby prep.  He deserves strong consideration.  However — who else is running here?  There’s steam horse DANZIG MOON, AMI’S FLATTER with the kitchen sink of changes (first-time Lasix and first-time blinkers), MY JOHNNY BE GOOD on a string of less-than-sharp works, the maiden GREAT STUFF, and MOONLIGHT BANDIT — a horse who faltered despite a rail trip in a rail-biased Remsen.  None of these runners has a clear-cut pace advantage.  On the notoriously love-it-or-hate-it Tampa Bay track, I will take a horse as proven in stakes company as CARPE DIEM over the still unproven DANZIG MOON, even at a short price.  Especially with CARPE DIEM’s proven pace versatility…class still matters.  However, when comparing CARPE DIEM with either OCEAN KNIGHT or DIVINING ROD, both of whom have fired a sharp race over the local track?  That choice becomes tougher.  OCEAN KNIGHT is the clear standout, with both the class advantage and the better pace draw this time than last.  He should be able to stay in touch with the pace early, and come running sharply late.  However, between DIVINING ROD and CARPE DIEM?  DIVINING ROD thrived on the Tampa Bay track last out, and stayed on until the end in a race where the pace was not fiendishly fast, but still contested throughout.  DIVINING ROD also drew the rail, which should help him save ground just like he did in the Davis.  He could get some pressure on the front, most likely from MY JOHNNY BE GOOD, but DIVINING ROD should be able to save ground and survive that challenge from a horse who looks most likely to have a future in sprinting.  There is just enough to like about DIVINING ROD to take him at a square price over CARPE DIEM at chalk, though in a multi-race wager, going three deep in this race appears mandatory.




#3 CARPE DIEM (8/5)

Longshot:  If DANZIG MOON were likely to go off at anywhere near his 12/1 morning line, he would be a shoo-in for “longshot” status.  However, it seems like every wise guy on earth is touting this one, and it would be no surprise to see him go off at odds close to or shorter than DIVINING ROD.  He could be the goods, or he could despise the Tampa track: who knows?  Instead, let’s give #4 AMI’S FLATTER (15/1) one more chance.  He makes a few changes here: he adds Lasix for the first time, and puts the blinkers on.  Blinkers on is particularly interesting, given that trainer Josie Carroll has been winning at a 25% clip with first-time blinkers.  He broke his maiden on the front end, but stayed interested from off the pace in his next two starts and made up some ground late in the Sam F. Davis against OCEAN KNIGHT and DIVINING ROD.  True, the changes will have to improve him a lot — or the top runners falter badly — to give him a win.  Still, he has a decent chance to hit the superfecta, and the positive changes put him in the best spot to take a step forward from the Sam F. Davis.


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