The $400,000, Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs brings together a field of 12, each with an opportunity to earn important points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve which are awarded to the top five finishers on a 50-20-15-10-5 basis.
Seven horses exit the local prep for this race, the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes run four weeks ago, but the Sam F. Davis winner Litigate is not among them. Runner-up Groveland, third-place finisher Classic Car Wash and fourth-place finisher Classic Legacy all hope to improve and become strong factors in the next two months leading to the first Saturday in May. The other three horses exiting the Sam F. Davis may have their work cut out for them. That group includes likely pacesetter Zydeceaux, who won the Pasco Stakes in January before a fifth-place effort last month. Another two are Dreaming of Kona and Champions Dream, who finished seventh and 11th, respectively, in the Sam F. Davis. Prairie Hawk made a mid-race move in the Sam F. Davis to go from eighth to fourth before fading to ninth. Similarly, Lord Miles tries his hand on Florida’s west coast after a sixth of eight finish in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes five weeks ago. Freedom Road stretches out to two turns for the first time off a strong win at Tampa Bay Downs in January and hopes to run as well at this 1 1/16-mile distance. Then there’s the pair of horses trained by Todd Pletcher in the form of Tapit Trice and Shesterkin. They enter this race off a one-two finish in a highly rated race at Gulfstream Park last month at the distance of this race, with Tapit Trice having drawn off by eight lengths at the end to beat his stablemate. Last but not least is Mikey Bananas, who finished second four weeks ago over Tampa’s track in an allowance level race.
Top Win Contenders:
With Tapit Trice the one to beat on paper (more on him later) I want to first take a long look at Prairie Hawk, who was decently regarded by bettors at 8-1 odds in the Sam F. Davis but who ended up ninth. In his three previous races, Prairie Hawk had been first or second after a quarter mile had been run, winning both of his two-turn races, the second of the two with a 91 Equibase Speed Figure which would be highest earned by any horse in the Tampa Bay Derby field if not for the 96 figure earned by Tapit Trice in his last two starts. In the Sam F. Davis, Prairie Hawk was bumped at the break and failed to establish the good early position he had in his previous two turn races, and that likely cost him as he was eighth after a quarter mile. He then moved up quickly to sixth, and then to fourth, before that rally took its toll. Even though he gets the extreme outside post for the Tampa Bay Derby, Prairie Hawk may get good position out of the gate because the horse just inside of him, Zydeceaux, is a need-the-lead type who should go fast to get as close to the rail as possible before the first turn. Similarly, Dreaming of Kona and Groveland have “early” running styles, so Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Samy Camacho may be in a good position stalking the pacesetters going into that first turn. If so, and if the colt runs the same or better as he did in his win on Jan. 12, he has potential to run a lot better than his odds may suggest he will. One more factor in his favor is his pedigree. Prairie Hawk is by Curlin, the sire of many a top 3-year-old through the years, and his dam produced 2018 Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip as well.
Tapit Trice has earned back-to-back 96 Equibase Figures, which are better than any horse in the field. Nevertheless, although he won both races, the most recent by eight lengths, they were both one-turn races so Saturday’s two-turn Tampa Bay Derby is a new task. As a son of Tapit there’s little doubt the colt has the pedigree to compete favorably on the Derby trail, and certainly trainer Todd Pletcher has a strong history with 3-year-olds, but just the same it can be tough to bet a horse at very low odds being asked to do something for the first time as is the case here.
Todd Pletcher has another competitor in Shesterkin, who is the most lightly raced horse in the field, having run just twice. He won his debut authoritatively on New Year’s Eve then finished second by eight lengths to Tapit Trice last month. Interestingly enough, Shesterkin pretty much ran second from start to finish in the race, passed by his stablemate while the early leader faded. That is likely the reason blinkers go on for today’s race, not for early speed but to help him focus in the late stages as perhaps he was distracted last time out. Having earned 84 and 82 figures for his first two races to date, he might have some more fight in him this time and that makes him a contender.
Classic Legacy is similar to Prairie Hawk in that he won his race prior to the Sam F. Davis with ease but didn’t fire in his stakes debut when checking in fourth. Still, he has improved his figures in his last three races, from 82 to 84 to 86. Additionally the colt is making his second start after a two-month layoff and gets the services of jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. for Bill Mott, who trained his half-brother Art Collector to win the 2020 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. A horse with this kind of pedigree in the hands of a Hall of Fame trainer is one we should consider as a contender in this year’s Tampa Bay Derby as well.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Champions Dream (85), Classic Car Wash (86), Dreaming of Kona (83), Freedom Road (84), Groveland (89), Lord Miles (81), Mikey Bananas (88) and Zydeceaux (85).
Win Contenders, in preference order: