Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from an exciting Saturday of racing action that included a significant Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve prep race, the $360,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, and the $350,000 Azeri Stakes for older fillies and mares at Oaklawn Park.
The 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby offered the top five finishers Derby qualifying points on a 50-20-15-10-5 basis.
STRONG HAND: Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher strengthened his Kentucky Derby hand when Tapit Trice rallied from last in the early going and unleashed an eye-opening closing kick to win the Tampa Bay Derby by two lengths against Classic Car Wash on Saturday. Pletcher, who already had 2-year-old champion Forte in his arsenal, has always been high on Tapit Trice. After the youngster’s successful stakes debut for jockey Luis Saez, it is obvious why. “He’s got a big, long stride and once he got clear down the lane, he really extended himself. I love the way he finished up,” Pletcher said. “Luis fits him well. He understands the way he needs to be ridden and he knows he’s not going to come out of the gate quickly. He gave him plenty of time to get going.” The April 8 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland is likely up next for this blossoming Tapit colt.
STILL HAS IT: Legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas may be 87, but he still has the knack for getting a horse primed for an important start. Secret Oath’s triumphant 4-year-old debut in the Azeri Stakes, with Tyler Gaffalione aboard for the first time, provides the latest example of that. She bested multiple Grade 1 winner Clairiere by 2 ¾ lengths. “I just thought she would throw a real good one (Saturday) because I did everything I wanted to do with her coming into it,” Lukas said. “I didn’t have to adjust a work or anything. I did it all when I wanted to. I thought I had her tuned.” Fans will be hoping for a Secret Oath-Clairiere rematch in the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap on April 15 at Oaklawn.
SHAKEUP ON DERBY TRAIL: Owner Amr Zedan announced early Sunday morning that Southwest Stakes winner Arabian Knight would be taken out of consideration for the 149th Kentucky Derby due to an undisclosed problem in his training. The Uncle Mo colt was one of several contenders trained by Bob Baffert that were transferred to Tim Yakteen before the end of February, and Zedan Racing Stables tweeted that Yakteen “wasn’t happy with his last work and we feel it’s in Arabian Knight’s best interest not to rush and allow him more time to develop.” Arabian Knight will be pointed to a summer and fall campaign according to his owner; the colt had yet to earn any Kentucky Derby points due to Baffert’s ongoing suspension by Churchill Downs but was added to Churchill Downs’ fifth Derby Future Wager pool this weekend. Wagering on Arabian Knight was suspended after the announcement.
PERFECT SPOT: The best trainers possess an uncanny ability to study condition books far and wide to find the best possible races to fit their horses. Eclipse Award-winning Brad Cox again reminded everyone of why he ranks among the elite with his decision to ship 4-year-old filly A Mo Reay to the West Coast for the first time. He was rewarded with a head victory against favored Fun to Dream in the $501,500 Beholder Mile Stakes at Santa Anita Park. Winning jockey Flavien Prat was quick to credit Cox. “He was really high on her and really wanted her in this race,” Prat said. “He was right.” A Mo Reay has won three successive starts since she came under Cox’s care.
SOMETHING SPECIAL: Goodnight Olive, the reigning Eclipse Award-winning champion female sprinter, may be sitting on a special season. Although she has endured various setbacks in the past, the 5-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper has not missed a beat and is producing one strong workout after another at Payson Park Training Center in Indiantown, Fla., since her first drill on Jan. 27. According to Equibase, she has produced three bullet works since then. In her most recent move, she traveled four furlongs in 49.20 on March 10, ranking third of 33 at the distance on behalf of First Row Partners and Team Hanley. According to Steve Laymon, who manages the ownership group, Goodnight Olive is being pointed toward the April 8 Madison Stakes going seven furlongs at Keeneland.