We have gone full circle, we have lived our lives through the pandemic and we absorbed the 2020 racing calendar like never before, and now a few months into 2021 we are hopeful that life will get back to how we always knew it.
There’s no doubt that for all of us in the thoroughbred racing community, the beginning of March is truly the start of an exciting brand-new campaign for three-year-olds. Let’s hope the Triple Crown races will get back to the fabulous tradition we have always known them to be.
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 6th, 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, we have reached its 40th year running. It’s the crown jewel of the biggest racing day of the year at Tampa Bay Downs.
As always, with great anticipation, 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 make an informed decision for yourself at the windows.
It should be a great, full day of racing, a fabulous card at Tampa Bay, as well as many other racetracks around the country.
Here are my top 5 contenders in my anticipated precise order of finish.
# 8 Hidden Stash. This son of Constitution is my top choice based on his continuous improvement and with what I have seen in film study in his tenacity to keep running deep into his stretch runs. In his brief career of 5 races, he has raced over 5 different tracks, his last in this same Tampa Bay oval in the grade 3 Sam F Davis stakes. It was his three-year-old debut and I was impressed with his willingness to run. After being snug on the rail, he swung 4 wide to mount an impressive close in the center of the track, an effort I believe he will improve on. He comes into this race with a couple of bullet works, steady breezes which are an indication of fitness. He once again gains the services of Rafael Bejarano, who has ridden him to consecutive smashing victories at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. Of course he needs to tuns the tables on Candy Man Rocket who won the Sam Davis at this same distance, but I’m feeling that is entirely possible. I am expecting a moderate to fast pace which may be precisely to his advantage with breaking from a suitable position in the 8th hole.
# 11 Promise Keeper. This guy did not run as a two-year-old, so he somewhat violates what I typically like to see in preparation of running in a Kentucky Derby prep race; however, I have great respect for Todd Pletcher, who has won this race 5 times ( his last in 2017 with Tapwrit), as a conditioner, and I’m trusting this colt will be prepared for a big effort. This may fill an all Constitution exacta as he shares the same sire as my top choice. He was purchased for $160,000 and comes off a smashing win, graduating from his maiden ranks in the slop at Gulfstream Park. It was an impressive race because he won rather effortlessly stretching out from his debut sprint, a race where he was 4th beaten rather soundly by Candy Man Rocket. Luis Saez is back up and I’m convinced this colt will be very tactical in this race, gaining solid position to solve for his best run as they turn for home. It will be interesting to watch the board at the window action he receives, I’m guessing he’ll get some solid support.
# 3 Candy Man Rocket. This guy comes into this race off of consecutive quality victories. He too stretched out off of an impressive sprint victory to run a huge race in the before mentioned Grade 3 Sam F David Stakes. He started well and was in perfect striking position racing into a swift pace, stalking perfectly, then gaining the lead and holding off a few late charges to emerge victorious. He comes into this race with a nice breeze and it’s likely he will be the post time favorite at the betting windows. I will always demonstrate respect for Bill Mott who won this race 22 years apart, his last just two years ago with the erratic Tacitus. I’m feeling he’ll be on the pace for certain, breaking from the 3 hole, but he could be in a position to be harder pressed and be asked for much more during the final 1/8. He is definitely a contender here but I believe my top two choices carry more value and may be sitting on much improved races.
# 10 Helium. This attractive and rather imposing colt just may be the wild card of this race. Trainer Mark Casse ( who won this race back in 2012 with Prospective) ships him in from Canada after winning both his lifetime starts as a juvenile, and now will be making his three-year-old debut. He hasn’t raced since October 18th, but he appears to be fresh and fit based on his steady works. I was entirely impressed by his turn of foot while in film study; albeit both races coming on the synthetic surface that is at Woodbine. He gains the capable hands of Jose Ferrer in the saddle who is very familiar with the oval at Tampa Bay. There’s no doubt he’s got the talent to better my rating of 4th placing. I feel it will be important to watch the board for support and watch his conduct during the post parade. I will be using him in many of my exotics as he deserves respect as a contender, don’t ignore completely.
# 7 Moonlite Strike This colt purchased for $120,000 comes out of a winning barn and gains a favorable jockey change to Daniel Centano who has had a great measure of success at Tampa Bay. I was impressed by his versatility, running consistently on various surfaces, and I feel he’ll take to this distance very well. He showed me enough to mention him as my 5th consideration as I feel he may not have run his best race yet, and this is his 2nd start as a developing three-year-old.
Well there you have it, let’s make it a fabulous day of racing. Good luck to you all.