Surfing U S A ships in from Gulfstream to tackle stablemate Vinceremos.
While the class of the Derby contenders save their energy for the big payday preps, a motley field assembles for the Tampa Bay Derby, which includes the first and third place finishers of the Sam Davis (III), regarded as the prep race for this event despite the last winner of both being Burning Roma, all the way back in 2001. Todd Pletcher seeks his third Tampa Bay Derby win overall and second consecutively with the top two morning line choice Surfing U S A and Vinceremos.
Week 6/10 of the Derby Handicap Contest! Submit your choice of horse through this link by 5:05pm EST (20 minutes before post time). Read the Contest tab for rules and more information.
$350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (II) - 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Tampa Bay Downs. Post Time: Saturday, March 8 at 5:25pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Ring Weekend - Daniel Centeno, 116 lbs, Graham Motion - The Tapit gelding has been getting better and better with time according to his connections, and he seems to have the speed figs to back up that belief. He won by enough wiggle room in his last start— his first time on fast dirt at this distance— despite going wide early. Graham Motion wins at a 25% clip here and the rail has been generous here at this track. Value can be had, but do note this horse is fresh off his maiden score.
2) Surfing U S A - Jose Lezcano, 116 lbs, Todd Pletcher - I wasn’t particularly impressed when I saw this Roman Ruler colt break his maiden at Aqueduct in the fall, and he was most recently snuffed out by Top Billing at Gulfstream Park. His breezes look good enough, and Pletcher may be eyeing an easier score here. How he does will at least tell us how good Top Billing really is.
3) Matador [ON] - Julien Leparoux, 116 lbs, Mark Casse - The “other” Casse entry, the Malibu Moon colt broke his maiden back in October at Woodbine on the turf, but seemed good enough to run on dirt judging by his 1-length loss in the Sam Davis, where he finished 4th while putting his best move in a bit too late. He improved well in the Sam Davis, and we haven’t really seen his best move yet due to choppy trips in the past or just surface indifference. Could be a diamond in the rough if he can keep improving.
4) Coltimus Prime - Gary Boulanger, 116 lbs, Justin Nixon - The Milwaukee Brew colt has some distance pedigree pinging around as a bit of a backside secret, as all of his 3 past starts came on Woodbine’s all-weather. He missed by a neck to the good Jose Sea View last out after enduring a very stubborn duel the whole race and smashed his maiden by 8 lengths. He seems to be quality enough to run here and his pedigree says dirt.
5) Conquest Titan - Shaun Bridgmohan, 116 lbs, Mark Casse - This Birdstone colt made quite the impression breaking his maiden at Churchill and then made up serious ground late to be 2nd in the Holy Bull behind Cairo Prince. If he can get some pace and not lag behind this time, he stands a good shot to get some more Derby points here.
6) Vinceremos - Edgar Prado, 120 lbs, Todd Pletcher - The lightly-raced and promising Pioneerof the Nile colt was up in time to win the Sam Davis last out here at Tampa at the same distance despite a bit of a sleeper pace. He came on again to prevail in his last race, displaying some class in a tight finish. An improving, sensible, likely favorite.
7) East Hall - Juan Levya, 116 lbs, Bill Kaplan - Kaplan’s horses usually stick around south Florida, but this time he ships out this Graeme Hall gelding after 2 wins in 11 starts. He was 3rd behind General A Rod and Wildcat Red in the Gulfstream Park Derby and was beaten more than 6 lengths in the Florida Derby, running 4th. He already has 3 starts as a three-year-old, but has some of the sharpest speed figures on dirt when he’s at his best, and he’ll come in closing in on the pace.
8) Cousin Stephen - Javier Castellano, 116 lbs, Chad Brown - Typically a stronger turf trainer than on dirt, Chad Brown ships in a son of one of my favorite sires, Proud Citizen, with Castellano to boot. He was beaten less than a length last out in the Sam Davis here while trying to gamely wire the field. Interestingly enough, his best race and only win to date was his maiden won on turf. He didn’t improve significantly enough between his 2 dirt starts this year to really tempt me here, but the jockey change to Castellano is a nice addition.
9) Hy Kodiak Warrior - Gabriel Saez, 116 lbs, Marcial Navarro - Part of Kodiak Kowboy’s first crop to race, Kodiak Warrior will be given Lasix for the first time this race with a trainer who is 50% at first-time Lasix winners and an already attractive set of speed stats to go with that little boost. He lost to two good horses last out, Commissioner and Top Billing, while making his first start with trainer Navarro. He didn’t make up much ground against Commish and Top Billing last out, and is coming off a 2-month layoff with a new trainer. However, there is plenty to like about him as a fairly consistent runner who likes to come from off the pace, and he has some good 5 and 6-panel works coming into this race.
10) Tuscan Getaway - Joe Rocco Jr, 116 lbs, Ricky Griffith - 2-2-2 in 7 starts, the Stroll colt hasn’t raced since November over at Woodbine, where he wired the field at this distance on the all-weather main. He does have a prior win on dirt at Delaware Park as well as a place in his 2 dirt starts. Class as well as extended layoff is an issue, especially as a horse who likes to hug the pace, but his trainer does win at a 26% clip and this colt put in a barn-burning :57 and change workout a couple weeks ago.
Top 3 Picks in Order:
1) Hy Kodiak Warrior
2) Conquest Titan
3) Cousin Stephen
This is a bit of a hard race to pick apart when it comes to locating a serious contender for the win. Vinceremos had a rail trip of things and was in the clear to just make it there in the Sam Davis. There seems to be an ample amount of forwardly-placed horses here, which causes me to want to look at those who launch their bids later on. Despite a long layoff, Hy Kodiak Warrior looks like a good choice with good odds. He’s run well with classy types and has been logging some good longer works lately leading up to the race. Conquest Titan probably won’t get enough ground here again, not that he needs to win here to get prepared enough for the big race, but it ought to set up for him if he can be moved up a bit closer than he was in the Holy Bull. Cousin Stephen could have won the Sam Davis had he not been squeezed in the stretch on both sides. I want to put up Coltimus Prime pretty badly up here as well, but not off such a long layoff.
Value Pick: Hy Kodiak Warrior (8-1)
Contest Wager: Hy Kodiak Warrior