The next stop along the Derby trail will be Tampa Bay Downs which will host the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby. Ten 3-yr old hopefuls will enter the gate for this 1-1/16 mile test over the dirt course. 50 Kentucky Derby points will be awarded to the winner, and as we are reminded every week, 50 has been enough to get a spot in the gate on the first Saturday in May every year since the points system was introduced.
The biggest news surrounding this race is about who will NOT be running. The unbeaten McCraken suffered a minor injury to his front left ankle and will skip the race. Trainer Ian Wilkes will aim the colt towards the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8th. McCraken currently owns 20 Kentucky Derby points and his Kentucky Derby Future Wager odds of 6-1 were the lowest of any individual horse.
On to the handicapping.
Tampa Bay downs has scheduled fifty 1-1/16 mile races through March 6th, and 18% of them have been won wire to wire. Over the last 26 of these races, the winners’ running styles have been almost evenly distributed amongst speed (31%), stalkers (23%), closers (23%) and deep closers (23%). In spite of this even distribution it should be noted that the average lengths behind at the second call is only 1.2 lengths so I will be favoring horses who will not be too far back. Post positions have also been evenly distributed across posts 1 thru 7 with a slight drop-off in posts 8 and up.
When examining the pace scenario of this race we have several competitive speed balls who will ensure an honest pace. Basha, from post #3, ran healthy fractions as he finished 3rd in a restricted stake at Gulfstream. Todd Pletcher trainee Sonic Mule looks to need the lead and while his fractions were a bit slow in the G2 Swale last time out, he set blazing fractions in his previous 2 races at both 1m and 6f. Then there is State of Honor who also likes the front and showed some heart while holding 3rd behind McCraken and Tapwrit after setting the pace in Tampa’s G3 Sam F. Davis. Last but not least there is Wild Shot from post #9 who has pushed the pace in each of his last 3, all graded stakes affairs.
With all of this speed, I will be looking for someone to come from off of the pace. The #4, No Dozing, is a closer but his dull effort in the Sam F. Davis was worrisome. It was his first off of a 3 month layoff but starting and finishing 6th makes me look elsewhere. The #1, Tale of Silence, is also a closer but he hasn’t seen the winner’s circle since breaking his maiden last September. #2 Money Monster is undefeated in 2 races but his speed figures aren’t competitive.
By process of elimination, the horse I will put my money on is #5 Tapwrit, trained by Todd Pletcher. Pletcher will be seeking his fourth Tampa Bay Derby win in the last 5 years, including a 2016 victory with Destin.
Jockey Jose Ortiz put Tapwrit in a good inside spot last time out in the Sam F. Davis where he finished 2nd to McCraken. He sat 4th on the inside all the way around, but the pace was modest at best and he finished gamely. While I don’t normally like to play the morning line favorite (3-1 M/L) or horses coming off of such good trips, I think the pace will be hot enough for Tapwrit to scoop the purse and the 50 derby points at the wire. It would have been nice for our odds if McCraken was here.
The bottom line is, if I can get 3-1 or better, I will play Tapwrit for the win. Anything less than that and I will have to spread it out in exactas with Tapwrit on top of State of Honor, Sonic Mule, and Basha.