The 2020 Tampa Bay Derby: Analysis by Geo Sette

March 5, 2020

The season is starting. The Sport of Kings we all love kicks into a different level of interest once we are into March. It’s that special time where we witness many of the previous two-year-olds perform as greater developed three-year-olds and that contend for points in the many scheduled Kentucky Derby preparation races. 

During this special Saturday that is March 7th, there will be the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on the West Coast at Santa Anita and this very special the much anticipated Tampa Bay Derby.  Inaugurated back in 1981, it awards 85 points in all with 50 to the winner. The spotlight is on with many contenders ready to go, the winner is likely to have an opportunity to Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May.  Last year’s winner, Tacitus, became a major three-year-old threat all year long and he won this race in record time at 1:41.90 and of course, he ran for the roses as well. According to Equibase trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won this race a record 5 times, is again well represented with 3 starters in the field of 12.  This figures to be an exciting race. As I typically do, I have combined hours of film study, pedigree breakdown and detailed old school past performance statistical handicapping to provide you with my very best order of finish. My hope is that it can be used as a guide to making an informed decision for yourself, 

Race # 11 Tampa Bay Downs, The Grade 2 $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby One Mile and a sixteenth ( 8.5 Furlongs) Restricted to three-year-olds. Estimated Post Time: 5:32 EST 

# 5 Market Analysis

As a seasoned handicapper, I typically would side against a colt who did not run as a two-year-old. But, after watching his debut numerous times, I have decided to make him my top choice. This beautiful grey colt not only immediately paid worthwhile dividends on his $250,000 yearling price but to me, he did it smashingly,  and rather effortlessly.  He ran 7 panels at Gulfstream Park. He looked wonderful on the track for his first race. He broke alertly from the ten hole and moved up in between horses to get a sweet position as they were turning for home. I love seeing efforts like that and his pedigree solves for the added distance, even more so longer. He has first rate connections with two-time winner (Verrazano 2013 & Carpe Diem 2015)  Johnny Velazquez in the silks returning off of that maiden romp and saddled by 5-time winner Todd Pletcher. In his debut, the runner up Attachment Rate graduated his very next start and is entered in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct and I believe he has an excellent chance to win that race.  This colt has had simply fabulous works in his AM drills and appears to be fit and ready for a top effort; although only his 2nd career start. Look for him to again break alertly for his best position, especially with speed to his inside.  If he gets a good trip with what I feel will be a moderate to fast pace, he can very well emerge victorious.  Final thought, he was bet down late to 6:5 in his debut, so watch the board for similar activity. 

# 4 Chance It

This guy comes into this race as one of the most seasoned horses in the field. He has 6-lifetime starts, all very effective and very much involved, winning 4 of them and placing in the other two. It’s hard to ignore a colt who has hit the exacta in every race of his career. He was recently scratched from the Fountain of Youth Stakes as he drew the 10 hole. It was perhaps a wise move as he would have had to contend with the smashing performance of Ete Indien who simply blew away that field.  The reliable Paco Lopez is a rider switch by the red hot and formidable Saffie Joseph Jr barn.   This colt has solid speed, is very patient, and is also working brilliantly. He must be considered a major contender and should make his presence felt in the final furlong. I’m expecting him to sit 2nd or at worst third behind the speed to his inside. If allowed to be a front runner, I’m sure Paco Lopez will direct him aggressively. He should be considered on most exotics. 

# 1 Texas Swing

This colt was bred to be a winner and he came with a hefty purchase price of $275,000.00  He possesses a wonderful pedigree as the son of Curlin. In addition, his dam, Derby Eve is a half-sister to Colonel John, a solid router who won the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, one of the country’s biggest races at a mile and a quarter. This is another starter for Todd Pletcher. His rider is the very dependable Javier Castellano and he draws the rail.  Texas Swing is working well and I am almost certain he will be asked to drive forward for the lead out of the gate to be on the pace. If he doesn’t break as such, he still has the ability to close powerfully on this field.  He’s my 3rd choice but a rather dangerous contender with his best effort.  Castellano won this race with Destin back in 2016.

# 2 Spa City  

This guy really impressed me as he graduated in his last, his 3rd lifetime start. He stretched his wings going 9 furlongs and he did it willingly, breaking from an outside post. He’s saddled by Kiaran McLaughlin whom I have great respect for and comes from a barn that consistently starts horses who run quality races. There is a rider switch to Daniel Centano who knows this surface very well and has won this race twice, five years apart with Musket Man in 2009 and Ring Weekend in 2014. I’m expecting him to embrace his inside post and show tactical speed which should position him for a decent stretch run. He should be considered as a threat to hit the board especially if any of my top 3 falter. 

# 7 Sole Volante   

This gelding began his career with two sharp victories on the weeds and based on his pedigree, I’m feeling that the lawn could be his best surface. Even so, his two best performances regarding speed figures have come on the soil. In his last, he mounted a powerful close in a race with a sizzling pace. In this race, he could again see a moderate to fast pace, this would put him in a position to become a threatening menace deep into the stretch. There’s no doubt he’ll get lots of backing at the windows so to me you’ll lose betting value. I see him as a 5-1 choice in this field, but don’t be surprised if he’ll be bet down to less than 2-1  His connections are steady and reliable with Geroux riding for Patrick Biancome,  they worked him on the turf for this. It’s somewhat perplexing, but I’m sure they know what they are doing. He shouldn’t be completely ignored, but I just find my top choices more appealing  I will use this guy mostly in bottom gimmicks. I feel he’ll need others to run poorly to increase his chances. 

# 9 Unrighteous  

This is Todd Pletcher’s 3rd entry and he’s actually still a maiden. His last race vs Spa City  ( my 4th choice above) was gutty, taking the distance and still placing after being bumped. Now they put blinkers on him and gain the services of veteran Joe Bravo in the silks. He’s got a nice solid breeze for this race and I definitely see further improvement in his future.  He is actually a solid value play for your multiple trifecta and superfecta wages as he could potentially be ignored at the mutual windows. I’m expecting an aggressive late close from him. 

# 3 Relentless Dancer 

Good looking colt who has great potential, gains the quality rider skills of Antonio Gallardo who is up for Michael Maker. He closed his two-year-old campaign with two impressive wins, winning both by open lengths ( both sprints) and then in his 2020 debut he seemed to tire at this same distance.  He’s got some upside, but I would need to see more because many who I have mentioned above appear to be faster than him.

# 6 Mo Mosa  

This guy has an impressive pedigree and comes with a $125,000 price tag. His first 3 starts have been pretty solid, but came on a synthetic surface. His last was pretty powerful vs weaker competition and his speed ratings simply do not compare to many of his opponents in this race. I’m tossing him, he needs to show me more and needs a good race over the soil. 

# 8 Letmeno   

I noticed his pedigree and believe he’ll develop into a steady router with a closing punch. I have always respected his trainer Ian Wilkes but I feel he should have fired in his last over this same surface, but he came up well short vs a weaker optional claimer field. 

#10 Bye Bye Melvin, # 11King Guillermo & # 12 Tons of Gold   

Collectively appear to be up against it vs this field, with # 11 King Guillermo being the best of the 3. Comacho is a capable rider, but he’s making his three-year-old debut and is switching turf to dirt. I will give this son of Uncle Mo this best chance to surprise at a price if you’re looking for another horse to fill your multiple gimmick tickets. 

Finally, as I mentioned, there are two additional big races on Saturday and although I didn’t provide a full analysis on them, I will offer that in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, I like # 4 Attachment Rate with Luis Saez riding for Dale Romans and in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita I like # 4 Authentic from the Bob Baffert barn. 

So there you have it,  enjoy the racing day and I want to thank you in advance for your thoughts and or comments regarding my analysis ~ Geo 

Contributing Authors

Geo Sette

Geo serves multiple roles at Past the Wire. He is a columnist, handicapper, and analyst. Geo has been fascinated with the Sport of Kings since...

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@PastTheWire you did do her justice, this is a great read on a tragic moment in the history of our great sport, thank you.

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