The Triple Crown Prep season is in full swing and Geo Sette brings his handicapping expertise to Past the Wire for this deep dive preview of the Tampa Bay Derby
It’s that time of year where the enthusiasm and overall energy level of the entire thoroughbred racing community increases. There’s nothing like the beginning of March. The beauty of Spring is in the air, the days are longer and brighter, daylight savings time looms ahead as does St Patrick’s Day and the thrilling ride of the NCAA basketball tournament. Along with all the spirit and goodness of March, we begin the exciting campaign for racing’s three-year-olds.
We’re just two months away from the first Saturday in May, the 148th Kentucky Derby and the beginning of racing’s Triple Crown. Of course from this point on through the first week in April, we’ll have several three-year-old Graded Stakes races which all are greatly embraced as prep races for the big dance.
Inaugurated back in 1981, the Tampa Bay Derby runs for the 41st time and fully supports a fabulous day of racing at Tampa Bay Downs, a 12-race card showcasing several Graded Stakes races with this crown jewel. These guys in the field of 12 have a purse of $400,000.00 going a mile and 1/16th.
Over the years, many winners of this race ultimately failed to emerge victorious for their Run for the Roses, but many have gone on to have fabulous racing careers.
In 2007, Street Sense won this Tampa Bay Derby with an incredible noses apart victory over Any Given Saturday. He then followed to close from 19th with a simply amazing stretch run to win the Kentucky Derby.
There’s always a good measure of intrigue when it comes to these prep races in March and April, you never know when you are beginning to witness the run of a champion.
As always, I have combined hours of film study, pedigree reconciliation, and old school past performance statistical handicapping to provide you with my very best order of finish. This, so you, the racing fans and racetrack bettors, can make a more informed decision for yourself at the windows.
I do want to note that Saturday’s weather at Tampa Bay could get stormy as I viewed the long range forecast, so I have taken that into account with my analysis for you. Even still if it’s really wet and the track condition is challenged, most of these colts will be seeing it for the very first time.
Here are my top contenders in my anticipated precise order of finish. Let’s go make some money!
# 8 Major General. I don’t typically select a horse as my top choice coming into a race off a six-month layoff, but in this case, I must make an exception. This colt, the son of Constitution, was purchased for $420,000. He did not disappoint at first asking getting all the money in his debut at Saratoga and he didn’t have the best of trips. He was ambitiously entered in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs at this same distance. After breaking well for position, he was forced 4-wide, and then showed some guts and maturity by holding off his challengers through the stretch after he took the lead. So now he’s making his three-year-old debut and comes into the race with a series of quality morning drills at Palm Beach Meadows, a solid indication that he’s fresh, fit, and ready. I’m confident that 5-Time Tampa Bay Derby winner, Todd Pletcher, has this guy set for a top effort, with Javier Castellano (who won this race in 2016 with Destin) back in the silks to add to his appeal. Considering his layoff and him making his seasonal debut, we could get a favorable price at the window for him. He’s my top choice and will be used in multiple betting gimmicks.
# 4 Classic Causeway. This colt comes into this race sporting the best resume and will likely be the post time favorite. I was impressed how he won the Grade 3 Sam F Davis over this same Tampa Bay Downs soil, and he comes into this race with a pair of sharp morning drills. Trained by Brian Lynch with Irad Ortiz back in the saddle, he has hit the board in all 4 of his career starts showing solid consistency over 4 different racetracks. I’m expecting him to be tactical early on along with the front runners with a moderate pace and then he should have enough left to make his presence felt as they come down the lane. He’ll be backed well at the windows, deservedly so, and I feel he’s a major contender if he runs his best race and adapts to the off going if the track comes up wet. He’s my 2nd choice.
# 11 Money Supply. This is the only horse in the field to have just one race to his credit, and not race as a two-year-old; however, he won over the same Tampa Bay soil while dealing with a rough trip and he posted the race’s best Beyer speed rating with a 91. Clearly, the talent is there. This son of Practical Joke was purchase for $400,000 and comes into the race from the hugely successful Chad Brown barn. He’s stretching out from his debut sprint and comes into the race with a couple of average works. I feel he must be respected considering his speed rating and his overall connections with Jockey Jose Ortiz in the saddle. I’m expecting him to break alertly, then sit mid-pack and look to make a thunderous close as they turn for home. I would use him in your multiple race wagers and with your gimmicks, a contender for sure if he runs to his potential. Lastly, Jose Ortiz won this race back in 2019 with Tacitus.
# 5 Giant Game. This colt is very interesting and I consider him the ‘Wild Card’ of the race. He was purchased for a cool $500,000. This son of Giant’s Causeway is bred for the distance and is working very smartly since making his three-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Holy Bull stakes at Gulfstream Park 4 weeks ago. He just wasn’t right that day and he recently scratched from the Fountain of Youth Stakes. This colt showed great promise during his juvenile campaign. I’m confident his trainer, Dale Romans (who often shows up big in big races) will have this guy ready for his best effort. Ridden by Joe Talamo who always gives you an honest ride, this colt will be racing at his 5th different track in as many races, and he’s hit the board in three of his 4 starts. If he’s ready to rumble, watch out, he’s capable of upsetting this field at a price or he can add value to your deeper gimmicks like Triples and Superfectas. I’m always intrigued by horses who are making their 2nd start off a layoff.
#9 Shipsational. This colt, a New York Bred, comes into this race with solid form and he has two impressive wins over sloppy tracks at Belmont and Saratoga. He was 2nd to my 2nd choice Classic Causeway in the Sam F Davis which was his first race in 5 months. This is his 2nd start off the layoff and he comes into the race with a pair of bullet works. Manny Franco is up for Eddie Barker which is an interesting jockey change. His overall race times put this guy into contention, especially when considering his efforts to date on a sloppy track. I’m expecting him to show some nice early speed and be in contention throughout the race. He’s my 5th choice in a very competitive field.
# 6 Golden Glider. This son of Ghostzapper is a nice looking colt who was purchased for $395,000 and he’s raced very well over this Tampa Bay Downs oval. Antonio Gallardo is up for the solid Mark Casse barn who typically has his horses ready for big races. He has shown some powerful stretch runs with monster closes, so he’ll have that puncher’s chance to do the same on Saturday. He was 3rd in the Sam F Davis and is eligible to improve if he gets a solid pace in from of him and an advantageous trip overall.
#10 Belgrade. I have great respect for Graham Motion who won this race back in 2014 with Ring Weekend. This colt is 2 for 2 in his career, winning his only start as a two-year-old and winning his seasonal debut over this same Tampa Bay surface in an optional claimer event. He has been greatly backed at the windows both times. I feel we’ll have to watch the board with this colt, the son of Hard Spun out of Danzig who was a horse that really thrived when the track was wet and muddy. He’s stepping up in class here, but he’s got the pedigree to be a threat in the race with his very best, don’t ignore completely.
# 2 Trademark. This guy is the only gelding in the race and I have respect for the Victoria Oliver barn. He gave way in his last, facing many rivals in the aforementioned Sam F Davis. I believe he’ll show improvement this weekend. Expect him to have solid gate speed and be a factor early on, but then most likely tire in the stretch.
#7 Strike Hard. He’s the most experienced colt in the race with 7 lifetime starts. He gets a huge positive jockey change to the ultra-consistent Luis Saez. He has hit the board in 5 of his lifetime starts, but he has been beaten rather soundly by 3 horses in this race, including my top choice Major General who defeated him by 6+ lengths last September. His morning drills have been solid, but I just feel this guy is a cut below many in this field. My respect is there for the jockey but at best I’m going to use him strictly in bottom gimmicks.
#1 Grantham, #3 Happy Boy Rocket and #12 Spin Wheel all seem to be up against it here. I wouldn’t recommend using any of these guys to win and I see them as challenged to even hit the board.