This Saturday, Picks and Ponderings goes coast-to-coast. In addition of this preview of the Tampa Bay Derby (GII), another piece takes a look at the Honeybee (GIII), this weekend’s Kentucky Oaks prep at Oaklawn. Paul Mazur also goes west for a huge day of racing at Santa Anita — the card features a pair of Grade I races in the Santa Anita Handicap and the Kilroe Mile, as well as Derby points up for grabs in the San Felipe (GII).
Saturday marks the 36th running of the Tampa Bay Derby, whose $350,000 purse makes it the richest race of the season at Tampa Bay Downs. It is also the only race over the Oldsmar oval which offers Kentucky Derby points — 50, 20, 10, and 5 to the horses placed first through fourth. 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.
Odysseus re-rallies and nails Schoolyard Dreams at the wire in the 2010 Tampa Bay Derby. Though Super Saver only mustered third, he got the last laugh on the first Saturday in May.
A free live stream of Tampa Bay Downs is available on the Tampa Bay Downs website.
Edited Saturday, March 12 to account for the scratch of MORNING FIRE.
Tampa Bay Downs: Saturday, March 12
Race 11: Tampa Bay Derby (GII), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:24pm EST
Let’s get one thing out of the way before we begin this in earnest. Could BRODY’S CAUSE win? Sure. He should have pace in front of him, and he has fired in all three of his starts over dirt. He has a win at the distance. He even has a local work that was plenty fast. Still, in such a contentious field as this, does it make sense to take a short price on a horse who hasn’t raced since October, particularly since trainer Dale Romans wins at only 10% with runners laid off for three months or longer?
Survey says, not so much. BRODY’S CAUSE looks like the underlay of the year, and this space will be standing against him.
On the other hand, this space is going to go with a bit better proposition than Dale Romans off the lay, and that’s Todd Pletcher in a Derby prep.
No, not that Pletcher horse. The other one.
OUTWORK comes into the Tampa Bay Derby off of a commanding N1X allowance win on the Sam F. Davis undercard. That victory proved a few things. First off, it proved that despite being laid off from April to February, he came back from that layoff fit and ready to run. Secondly, it proved that OUTWORK can handle the love-it-or-hate-it surface at Tampa Bay Downs in race conditions. Thirdly — and most importantly — it suggested that he may have some all-important tactical speed. He broke sharply out of the gate, and briefly duelled with Formal Summation. However, down the backstretch and approaching the turn, John Velazquez kept OUTWORK in a stalking spot instead. OUTWORK remained interested, took it to Formal Summation, and ended up winning easily. After his easy frontrunning victory on debut, it was welcome to see OUTWORK able to cede the lead and then take it back. The waters get deeper here — but if Velazquez can build upon that, and sit OUTWORK off of the early pace from the likes of AWESOME BANNER and RIKER, he could get first run. The fact that Velazquez is riding OUTWORK at all also makes him interesting — he also rode DESTIN to his Sam F. Davis win, and yet turns up on OUTWORK. As far as the distance, this will be OUTWORK’s first try at two turns. However, as he is an Uncle Mo half to Nonna’s Boy (a stakes winner at a mile and a sixteenth on grass), this distance should prove within OUTWORK’s abilities. Even if the Pletcher Factor drags OUTWORK down to something like 8/1 off of his 12/1 morning line, he has enough upside to be worth it here.
Should OUTWORK not turn out to be as tactical as this space thinks he is, the top two from the Sam F. Davis both have solid shots. RAFTING has had a bit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde going on in his career — he posted a solid victory in the Smooth Air Stakes at Gulfstream Park West last November, but last out in the Sam F. Davis (GIII) he went from looking a sure winner turning for home to handing the race to DESTIN on a silver platter late in the game. Still, he comes in second off the layoff here, giving him a chance to come back sharper. Trainer Graham Motion generally does well second off the lay, with 17% wins and 49% in the money. He showed in the Sam F. Davis that he can run a good race over the course, and that he could rally into a pace that was not especially fast. Here, he stands to get even more early zip in front of him than he did in his last start. If RAFTING remembers how to be a racehorse, he will prove tough late.
DESTIN, the “Pletcher A”, is another who should be rallying from a few lengths off. He won the Sam F. Davis last out by daylight, showing that a mile and a sixteenth over the sandy Tampa dirt is something he can handle. He loses rider John Velazquez to OUTWORK, but picks up a perfectly competent rider in Javier Castellano. In fact, Castellano rode DESTIN in his first two starts, and the maiden win and N1X second suggest some synergy there. Like RAFTING, he benefits from the hotter pace likely here as compared to the Davis. The field today is tougher, but his local aptitude and his solid late pace make him a contender once again.
#3 OUTWORK (12/1)
#2 RAFTING (6/1)
#7 DESTIN (9/2)
Longshot: #9 TALE OF S’AVALL (12/1) has not raced since the Champagne Stakes (GI) in early October. He finished a lackluster fifth that day, but that race came in the slop. In his only fast-dirt start — the only other start of his career — he won a maiden special at Saratoga. He rallied from midpack that day, a style that should suit him well here. Though it is anyone’s guess whether he handles the Tampa Bay surface, the long worktab does suggest fitness. The rider change to Joe Bravo also bodes well. Though Bravo has not ridden TALE OF S’AVALL yet, he has a solid track record of hitting the road, riding a horse for the first time in a stakes race, and getting them to outrun their odds. If TALE OF S’AVALL has progressed from two to three, Bravo could spoil the exotics with this one.
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