It took much longer than it should have for this race to become a key step on the road to the Kentucky Derby. After all, there isn't much to complain about when it comes to training and races horses in sunny Florida over the winter. It's certainly more attractive than a lot of places north of there to spend the winter. It wasn't until 2007, though, that this race really started to matter. That was when 2006 two year old champion Street Sense used this race as his stepping stone to his 2007 Kentucky Derby win. Super Saver was only third in this race three years later, but he rebounded to also win the Derby. Last year Carpe Diem won this race and went on to be the third betting choice in the Derby. He finished a disappointing 10th - the disappointment was almost inevitable because Todd Pletcher trained him.
So, will the road to Kentucky again travel through Tampa Bay? There are four horses entered in this race, which goes off on Saturday afternoon, that make you believe that it quite possibly could.
Brody's Cause, Corey Lanerie, 5/2: The first thing that really stands out when you look at this horse here is his breeding. His sire, Giant's Causeway, was a horse that could run forever. He was the world's Horse of the Year in 2000. He has been a successful sire, but you don't often see him on the three year old scene, so this is noteworthy. He is going to be able to handle this distance - and longer ones later on - without any issue. That's the good news. The bad news here is the layoff he is coming off of. His last race was a strong third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Racing fans will recognize that was on Halloween day - four and a half months ago. That's hardly an ideal layoff for a horse like this to come off of. It also makes it very tough for bettors to assess where the horse is at and how he matches up. His two best races were his last two. He won the Breeders' Futurity against Exaggerator, who runs on Saturday in the San Felipe at Santa Anita. Then he went to the Juvenile. His race there was very solid, but he benefited from a very easy trip - especially compared to the winner Nyquist. Both of those races were also at his home track, so we have to see how he runs here. Add it all up and you have a tough horse to judge. No shortage of talent, stamina to burn, but he could be a horse for a different course, and he's going to be rusty. I have lots of time for Dale Romans horses, but this horse makes me nervous.
Destin, Javier Castellano, 9/2: I spent so much time when writing about Brody's Cause talking about how impressive and rare having Giant's Causeway as the sire was. Well, imagine my excitement, then, that we have another of his son's here. This one is trained by Todd Pletcher - which ensures I will be negative about him in a couple of months if he makes it to the Derby even though I like him now. Pletcher has won this race three times, though, which is the most of any trainer. The horse has run in stakes races his last two outings, finishing a soft fourth the first time before winning the Sam F. Davis impressively last time out on this same track. What I like most about the horse, though, is the progression of his Beyer figures - from 66 two races back to 80 to 91 last time. That's a horse that is learning how to run. Strong trainer. Top jockey. Loves the track. Can run forever. He's the one to beat here.
Economic Model, Irad Ortiz Jr., 5/1: This isn't another son of Giant's Causeway, but his breeding is just as impressive. He is a grandson of A.P. Indy, so stamina influences are abundant. His damsire is Quiet American, the sire Of Derby winner Real Quiet. The distance here - or anywhere else for that matter - won't be a legitimate excuse for this horse. What could be an excuse, though, is a lack of experience. He is making just his third career start here. He broke his maiden back in August at Saratoga, and then was off until the Swale at the end of January at Gulfstream. He was a solid second in that one, though he was totally outclassed by the impressive winner Awesome Banner. That horse was subsequently humiliated last time out in the Fountain of Youth, so it's not an inspiring situation for this horse by extension. I like the breeding and there is obvious talent here. I like the connections, too - Ortiz is a strong rider,, and Chad Brown is an elite trainer. I just don't think that this horse is quite ready for this stage yet, though. Too soon, so no value.
Awesome Banner, Antonio Gallardo, 8/1: I just hate this spot. He was impressive leading into the Fountain of Youth last time out. That race was just horrible, though. He set the pace in that one and was totally cooked after five furlongs. It was his first time around two turns, and it obviously didn't work. Now he's back in just two weeks to chase Derby points - with a new jockey, no less. It reeks of desperation, and I want nothing to do with it.
The pick: I like Destin best in this bunch - and at his morning line price he'd be attractive. If I'm feeling exotic I'd probably through Riker in on an exacta with Destin.
This Saturday is a magnificent day for the ponies, and Doc's Sports expert Raphael Esparza has picks in both big stakes races - click here for free picks for these races - the same ones that paying members get - and the sign up is hassle free and no credit card is needed. Not only do we get one stakes race but we actually get to see two stakes races this weekend. The first one is the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Park and Saturday early evening is the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita
We all know that the Kentucky Derby is the most famous horse race of them all, but the BEST value is in all the Kentucky Derby prep races before the big event. Raphael Esparza; Former Race and Sports Book director from the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, has all the inside connections and the years of experience. Build your Kentucky Derby bankroll with the pony expert. Last year Esparza cashed with both stakes races as he hit the Tampa Bay Derby with Carpe Diem and the San Felipe Stakes with Dortmund. Esparza is coming off a nice winning day at Gulfstream Park two weeks ago, and he is looking for two out of three Winning Saturdays at the track.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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