Tampa Bay Downs: The GII, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby at 1 1/16 miles
#1 Eton Blue: Lightly raced colt chased Saturday’s heavy favorite Verrazano around one turn in an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park last month, but as a son of Giant’s Causeway out of Kentucky Oaks winner Bird Town, he should move forward in his two-turn debut today. Zito charge was taken out of his game chasing the hot splits that day at GP and should be much more settled here and will get plenty of pace to rally into, which means he’s eligible to move way up at a big price; exotics potential.
#2 Purple Egg: Undefeated gelding makes his 3yo debut and first start past six furlongs after an impressive 3-for-3 juvenile campaign that culminated in a local win in the minor Inaugural in December. Son of Lion Heart is bred for the trip and no doubt has talent, but this inside draw off the layoff means he might have to flash some speed, and there are several others who want to do the same; gets a mighty tall task in his 3yo unveiling.
#3 Honorable Dillon: Son of Tapit stretches out after a stalking win in the GII Hutcheson at GP going seven furlongs and rates as an exciting newcomer who has improved in every one of his four career starts. Tactical sort is bred top and bottom for this trip and should be in the right spot just off the far turn, so if the heavy chalk doesn’t fire, he’s one of a few who figure to be right there; looms a viable alternative to the big horse.
#4 Java’s War: Stretch runner makes his first 3yo start after an eventful juvenile campaign that saw him run on turf, synthetic and dirt at four tracks in five races. Son of champion War Pass was sixth in the GII Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in his lone dirt start to end his season in November but broke 11th from the rail that day and endured an extremely wide trip, so it’s not like he ran terribly. McPeek runner has really picked it up with his last two drills and gives the impression that we haven’t seen his best yet, so there’s a chance he can make a late impact; stretch danger for part of the purse.
#5 Dynamic Sky: Improving Casse colt has run well in two local starts since adding blinkers and was a fine second in the GIII Davis in his last start, with a bit of trouble to boot. Son of Sky Mesa has a nice cruising gear that should put him in the first flight while a few lengths off the speed, and in the third start of his form cycle, with a bit of a homecourt advantage as well, he looks like the biggest threat to the big horse next door; call to post the surprise.
#6 Verrazano: Freakishly fast son of More Than Ready is your early Kentucky Derby favorite and gets the long-awaited acid test for Pletcher after winning his first two starts by a combined 24 lengths. Of course, the waters get quite a bit deeper today as he tries two turns and tests stakes foes for the first time, so even though the toteboard will tell you he’s 2/5, it won’t be quite that easy. On paper he lays over the field, but he’s going to face a lot of pace pressure while being asked to do something for the first time, so point being, there’s little reward and a lot of risk; trying to beat at extremely false odds.
#7 Offlee Fast: Underrated runner just ran too good to lose to Pletcher’s Capo Bastone in a GP optional claimer last month, when he set hot splits in the slop only to come up a head short to the heavy favorite. Of course, they staggered home that day and the winner might be a bit of a fraud, so this guy does have his work cut out for him here, though he might be fast enough to keep the favorite honest; stop and pop seems likely.
#8 Park City: The second 2-for-2 runner from Pletcher’s barn is almost a carbon copy of his stablemate in that he’s also stepping up and stretching out off a GP optional claiming win. The similarities end there, though, as he’s never been beyond 6 ½ furlongs and has won his two starts by a length and a neck. Tactical runner is bred for the trip, will offer value and has done nothing wrong in either start, so he’s in the umbrella of horses who have a chance if Verrazano runs a clunker; somewhat intriguing.
#9 Falling Sky: Wire-to-wire winner of the Davis shocked the public twice that day, first when he won at over 7-1 in his two-turn debut and second, when he was left up for the win after looking like a drunk soldier and causing all kinds of problems at the top of the lane. Still, a win is a win is a win and he’s now won 3-of-4 and sure proved game over the track and distance. The issue today is two-fold, in that he wants to be on the lead and he drew terribly, so with Verrazano and a few others entered, he’s either going to have to stalk or gun from a wide draw, and neither option is that appealing. On paper he’s got the qualifications to win this, but in terms of pace and post, he’s worth leaving out of the equation; playing against.
#5 Dynamic Sky
#1 Eton Blue