By Jim Freer
On Wednesday afternoon, ten horses were entered for Saturday’s $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (Grade 2) at Tampa Bay Downs.
The field does not have any horses currently considered to be budding superstars. But several of its runners have had strong winters in Florida, and owners and trainers are seeking a $210,000 winner’s check and a chance to compete for some bigger money and glory this spring.
The Tampa Bay Derby is 1 1/16 miles on dirt for 3-year-olds, and it is a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points qualifying race. The winner will get 50 points, which almost certainly will be enough to get in the 1 ¼ mile Kentucky Derby (Grade 1) on May 6 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Saturday is the annual Festival day at Tampa Bay Downs. It has a 12-race card with first post of 12:12 p.m. Five of the races are stakes.
The Tampa Bay Derby is the 11th race, with scheduled post of 5:27 p.m.
It has three horses that have won at least one ungraded stakes and three others that have finished third or better in at least one graded stakes.
As explained below, even a second place finish on Saturday could provide several entrants with enough points to gain a Kentucky Derby berth.
Back from the Davis
Among the top contenders are Tapwrit, State of Honor and Wild Shot. They finished second, third and fourth in the 1 1/16 mile Sam F. Davis (Grade 3) at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 11.
McCraken, the horse that beat them, is not in the Tampa Bay Derby. Trainer Ian Wilkes is holding the unbeaten McCraken out of the race due a left front ankle strain that he describes as “minor.”
No Dozing, a disappointing sixth in the Sam F. Davis, also is back for the Tampa Bay Derby. In his previous race, last Nov. 26, No Dozing finished second to Mo Town in the 1 1/8 mile Remsen (Grade 2) at Aqueduct in Ozone Park, N.Y. Tapwrit, The Money Monster and Sonic Mule are the only stakes winners in the Tampa Bay Derby.
The race will be the first for The Money Monster since he won the seven-furlong Pasco at Tampa Bay on Jan. 21.
In the Pasco, The Money Monster was owned by Rohan Crichton and Cheryl Baker and trained by Crichton whose stable is at Calder in Miami Gardens.
Several weeks ago, they sold The Money Monster to R.A. Hill Stable and Blackridge Stables. The new owners transferred the colt, a son of Majestic Warrior, to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott whose winter base is at Payson Park in Indiantown.
Sonic Mule, trained by Todd Pletcher, has two stakes victories at Gulfstream Park. Those wins were in the six-furlong Buffalo Man on Dec. 10 and the one-mile Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 1.
In the Mucho Macho Man, Sonic Mule beat State of Honor by a head after a lengthy stretch duel.
The Tampa Bay Derby will be the first race longer than a mile for Sonic Mule.
Tale of Silence, Basha, Beasley, and Zion Valley are the other horses in the Tampa Bay Derby.
In the Sam F. Davis, McCraken set a track record of 1;42.45 and beat Tapwrit by 1 ½ lengths. State of Honor was third, a length behind Tapwrit. Wild Shot was fourth by another length.
McCraken broke the record of 1:42.82 that Destin set in last year’s Tampa Bay Derby.
State of Honor and Wild Shot led in mid-stretch before McCraken passed them and Tapwrit. After being checked on the inside behind the other two horses, Tapwrit re-rallied and appeared to be moving as fast as McCraken at the finish.
As of 9:00 a.m. Thursday, Tampa Bay Downs had not released a morning line for the Tampa Bay Derby.
It is our expectation that Tapwrit, trained by Todd Pletcher, will be favored at post time.
In addition to his strong race in the Sam F. Davis, the son of Tapit won the one-mile Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 10.
The Pulpit was moved from turf to the dirt track that was listed as sloppy. The Weather Channel forecast for the Tampa Bay area for Saturday is for high temperatures in the mid 80s, with just a 20 percent chance of rain.
The Tampa Bay Derby’s second through fourth place finishers will get 20, 10 and 5 Kentucky Derby points.
Among horses listed above, these have qualifying points: McCraken 20; Wild Shot 7; No Dozing 5; Tapwrit 4; and State of Honor 2.
Last year, the cutoff was 32 points for making the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field. That was the highest cutoff in the five years of the current system.
Wilkes plans to bring McCraken back on April 8 in the 1 1/8 mile Blue Grass (Grade 2) at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., and then run him in the Kentucky Derby—if he has enough qualifying points.
The first four finishers in the Blue Grass will receive 100, 40, 20 and 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
Some horses in the Tampa Bay Derby also might run in another Kentucky Derby qualifying race in April.
Tampa Bay Derby Field
Here is the field for the Tampa Bay Derby in post position order, along with each horse’s trainer and jockey:
No. 1: Tale of Silence, Barclay Tagg, Paco Lopez; 2. The Money Monster, William Mott, Joel Rosario; 3. Basha, Gilberto Zerpa, Emisael Jaramillo; 4. No Dozing, Arnaud Delacour, Daniel Centeno; 5. Tapwrit, Todd Pletcher, Jose Ortiz; 6. Beasley, Mark Hennig, Irad Ortiz, Jr.; 7. Sonic Mule, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez; 8. State of Honor, Mark Casse, Julien Leparoux; 9. Wild Shot, George “Rusty” Arnold, II, Robby Albarado; 10. Zion Valley, Kevin Rice, Huber Villa-Gomez.
Tapwrit, State of Honor, Wild Shot and No Dozing have the jockeys that rode them in the Sam F. Davis.
Other Stakes Races
The other Festival Day stakes races, in the order they will be run, are:
–Columbia: $75,000 one mile on turf, 3-year-old males, 7th race with 3:12 p.m. scheduled post
–Challenger: $100,000,1 1/16 miles on dirt, males, 4-years-old and up, eighth race with 3:55 p.m. scheduled post
–Florida Oaks (Grade 3): $200,000, 1 1/16 miles turf, 3-year-old fillies, 9th race with 4:25 p.m. scheduled post
*Hillsborough (Grade 2): $200,000, 1 1/8 miles on turf, fillies and mares 4-years-old and up, 10th race with 4:55 p.m. scheduled post
We will have preview stories on Friday.