Tampa Bay Downs: The Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby at 1 1/16 miles, by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now
#1 Ring Weekend: Motion runner enters off a MSW win in relatively slow time at Gulfstream Park but drew well and seems to be on the improve, so this is a logical next step up the ladder. Son of Tapit was making his first two-turn start on Lasix last time, so that actually makes his form look a bit better than it is, and he was a resolute winner that day as well, as several took runs at him in early and deep stretch. We’ll lament further down the list of runners that this isn’t the best Tampa Bay Derby we’ve ever seen, but at this point in his development, this is still asking a lot; siding against.
#2 Surfing U S A: The first of two from Pletcher ran well in his two-turn and 3yo debut in an optional-claimer at GP when second behind Top Billing, who would be about 2-5 in here, and with this inside draw, you have to think he’s either going to be on or near the lead in what looks like a relatively paceless race. Lightly raced runner is bred to relish a middle distance trip, as he’s by Roman Ruler, so there’s no worry there, and if he clears early and is able to slow things down, they’re going to have a heck of a time catching him. Of course, you’ll have to take about 3-1 to find out if he’s good enough, which is where things start to get a bit hairy, because on paper he’s really no faster than anyone else; capable, but value lies elsewhere.
#3 Matador: Stalker was a decent fourth in the local prep, the GIII Davis, last time and will be the longer price of the two Casse runners as he looks to win his first start on dirt. Son of Malibu Moon wasn’t beaten much in the Davis and that was his dirt debut, so there’s upside here, though you wonder if he’ll be left with a bit too much to do in the lane, especially if ‘U S A can slow it down on the engine. Leparoux fans get their guy at a nice price and he can improve, but at this point a few others rank higher; limiting his use to underneath, if at all.
#4 Coltimus Prime: Mighty intriguing Woodbine invader makes his first start on dirt and first start as a 3-year-old, entering off a neck loss in the Display in the Great White North when last seen in December. Son of Milwaukee Brew is bred to relish the surface switch, and let’s be honest, there’s not a whole heck of a lot in here, so there’s no reason to believe he can’t be a player against a group like this, especially with his tactical style that will ensure a good trip. Lightly raced runner goes for a Nixon barn that rarely spots them where they can’t win, should offer value and drew well for his style, which all adds up to top billing; upset special.
#5 Conquest Titan: Casse’s more accomplished runner was second to romping winner Cairo Prince in GP’s GII Holy Bull in his 3-year-old debut in January and did beat next-out GII Risen Star winner Intense Holiday, but you could have thrown a blanket around the also-rans that day, so let’s not go too overboard here. Deep closer is by Birdstone, so he has a license to be a nice sophomore, but the worry is that he’s lost the tactical speed he showed early in his career, and spotting this group several lengths off a slow pace isn’t going to do a lot to help his winning chances. And unlike ‘U S A, who seemingly has an edge in race flow at false odds, this colt offers no such luxury yet might even be favored, so let’s watch another before jumping on his bandwagon; willing to make him prove it.
#6 Vinceremos: The Davis winner added yet another 3yo to the Pletcher arsenal when he surged again on the rail and won his two-turn debut in game fashion in an effort than hinted that there’s more to come. Of course, his final time isn’t going to break any stopwatches and he tripped out nicely that day, so you’re allowed to view him with a bit of skepticism, especially since you will not be getting 12-1 today. Son of Pioneerof The Nile is on the improve and obviously in expert hands, but can he win under less than optimal circumstances against a tougher field than last time? Stubbornly playing against.
#7 East Hall: Tricky read makes you wonder if the hour glass is half-full or half-empty, as he exits a closing fourth in GP’s GII Fountain of Youth where the top pair went crazy early and never came back to the field in posting a very fast final time. So you need to decipher if he simply picked up the pieces from way out of it or if, in fact, he’s on the improve for Kaplan and ready to put a big scare into this field. And while you won’t get the 72-1 he was last time, he should still be in double digits, which isn’t the worth price to take on a runner who exits the best and by far fastest race of any of these. But yet again we have a runner with no speed who will be at the mercy of the pace, which looks tepid at best, and that’s not going to help him at all; thinking that hour glass is half-empty.
#8 Cousin Stephen: Of all the runners exiting the Davis, this is the one who seemingly took the worst of it that day, as he was forced to battle hard between horses while being pressured the whole way, so to see him draw outside while owning plenty of tactical speed is a very good thing today. Chad Brown colt was actually favored in his 3-year-old debut when a disappointing fifth to Commissioner and Top Billing in a GP optional-claimer in January, but it appears he did right the ship last time. Son of Proud Citizen still has upside with just four career starts, should offer a hint of value and lures Castellano in for the mount, which are all positives in what looks like a race that is there for the taking; tough to fault anyone looking this way.
#9 Hy Kodiak Warrior: Under-the-radar runner adds Lasix after running a closing third to Commissioner and Top Billing in the aforementioned optional-claimer at GP when last seen and will certainly like the “class” relief he gets today. Son of sprinter Kodiak Kowboy isn’t bred for this, but if his last was any indication, then he’s already outrunning his pedigree and that was at 1 1/8 miles, so you have to think the cutback only works to his advantage here. Price player could get overlooked in the wagering with some sexier connections involved, and with an overlaid price and every reason for improvement, you better look out; thinking he fires a biggie.
#10 Tuscan Getaway: The likely longest shot on the board hasn’t been on the dirt since breaking his maiden going 5Fs at Delaware Park in June and hasn’t even started since November, so Griffith sure does pick a tough spot to come back in. Son of Stroll is bred for the grass and has done his best work over the surface, as he was second in a minor Belmont Park stakes in October, so from this wide post, you have to think he’s just going to stretch his legs and prep for a grassy return next time; easy toss.
#4 Coltimus Prime
#9 Hy Kodiak Warrior
#8 Cousin Stephen