The Tampa Bay Derby hasn't traditionally been a major Triple Crown prep race, though in recent years the stature has raised somewhat as it has been helped by the points awarded in the new Kentucky Derby qualifying system. Suddenly the race has become more attractive because winning it all but secures you a spot in the Derby field, and finishing second gives you a shot at a spot as well.
The race has only once produced a Triple Crown race winner - Derby champ Street Sense in 2007. In the last four years Todd Pletcher has won this race three times - which explains why it hasn't been producing Kentucky Derby winners, because Pletcher is historically awful in the year's biggest race. Last year Pletcher boldly ran Destin off a layoff from this race into the Derby on the first Saturday in May. It was a failure of a tactic, and it would be surprise to see another horse try it again this year.
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It's a 10-horse field heading to the post at 5:27 pm on Saturday - which means the horses should be crossing the finish line just as the day's other big prep, the San Felipe at Santa Anita, starts. Racing just can't get out of its own way sometimes. Here's how the field shapes up - we'll only focus on six of the 10 horses because that is as deep as the field seems to go. I'll warn you in advance - this race is completely wide open. (odds are from the track handicapper):
Tapwrit, Jose Ortiz, 3/1: One of two Todd Pletcher runners is the favorite here. This horse was bought at auction for $1.2 million, so he had better be fast. And so far he has been. Last time out he was second to current Derby futures favorite McCraken in the Sam F. Davis with a huge and powerful stretch move. He keeps getting better and better, and being a son of Tapit has been a good thing in recent years on the road to the Derby. This horse is very talented, and Pletcher obviously knows how to win this race. My concern is that the public will run with the horse and the odds will be too low - much lower than this is a real problem. I like the horse, but I suspect I'll bet against him for financial reasons.
State of Honor, Julien Leparoux, 4/1: This horse is a Canadian bred, so I am automatically inclined to like him - us Canucks have to stick together. Unfortunately, that's not nearly enough to convince me to bet him at this price. Two back he faced Sonic Mule, who he faces again here, and he was second best. Last time out he ran a very nice race but against lesser competition. I feel like he's a step short of what he needs to be.
Beasley, Irad Ortiz Jr., 9/2: This horse was scheduled to run last weekend in the Fountain of Youth, and I liked him there. His connections opted for what is a slightly softer spot here, and so it only makes sense I like him here as well. Instead of running last Saturday he had a workout instead, and his half mile in less than 47 seconds was stunning. He's sharp and talented, and in my eyes he's the winner here. The biggest risk is that he likes to be on the lead - and he obviously has speed to play with. In a field of this size that could be a bad place to be, but if he gets a good trip he'll be tough to beat. This is where my money is going.
Wild Shot, Robby Albarado, 5/1: This horse has raced against top horses like McCraken and two-year-old champ Classic Empire. The issue, though, is that he hasn't been good enough against them. The talent is there, but he died in the stretch in the Sam F. Davis, and I'm just not convinced he wants this much distance. He's a reasonably talented miler in the wrong spot, and I want nothing to do with him.
No Dozing, Daniel Centeno, 6/1: This horse was solid as a two year old, with a runner-up effort in the Remsen as the highlight. In his three-year-old debut, though, he looked like he just didn't care about anything in the Sam F. Davis. It was a really underwhelming effort. He should be better than that, but I'm not convinced he's good enough. I'm also not thrilled about the idea of betting a horse ridden by Centeno is a field of riders this strong. I'll pass.
Sonic Mule, John Velazquez, 6/1: This is the other Todd Pletcher horse. It's somewhat noteworthy that Velazquez, who gets his choice of Pletcher horses, is on this one. He's plenty experienced and consistent - in eight career starts he has been in the money seven times. This issue, though, is that in his only two graded stakes he has been third. He's good, but perhaps not quite good enough. In this field, though, he could be good enough to get a piece. I'll take him and Tapwrit in the bottom of an exacta under Beasley.
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