As the Kentucky Derby trail continues to heat up through the month of March, the prep races steadily begin to draw deeper fields. That is certainly the case in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, where the cast assembled is far more diverse and talented than the group we saw in last month’s local prep race, the Sam F. Davis. The winner of that event is back in this lineup, but he is not the expected favorite. That honor goes to the quickly improving sprinter Win Win Win, who will be attempting to stretch out in distance for the first time.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, which is likely to be set by the stretching-out sprinter Zenden (#11), as he figures to be hard-sent from his far outside post position. Well Defined (#5), who led throughout in the Sam F. Davis, should also be looking for the lead, which could set up an early duel. Horses like The Right Path (#8) and Dunph (#9) should also be stalking from close range. Win Win Win (#7) is fast enough to stay relatively close, but he’s been content to drop farther back in his recent races. Mark Casse’s pair, Dream Maker (#4) and Sir Winston (#2), are two who would stand to benefit from an especially contested early pace.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, ADMIRE (12-1): It is necessary to make some decisions about your opinion of the Withers as you assess the first two runners in this Tampa Bay Derby field. Both ran respectable races at Aqueduct that day and show significant speed figure improvements. However, the same is true for a number of horses in that field, which would naturally lead one to question the predictive value of the speed figures assigned to that race. If the Withers numbers are true, I think we have to take both of these horses seriously. That said, Admire is slightly less appealing to me. I thought he got into a good early position heading around the clubhouse turn in the Withers, and just could not quite stay with the leaders when they quickened midway through the race. He clearly possesses plenty of stamina, so he was able to stay on well enough to be fifth, but he was never a serious threat. This horse was most successful when he was able to stalk a moderate pace in his maiden win at Gulfstream, and I’m not sure he’s versatile enough to adapt to a more taxing trip at this point in his career. An exotics player.
#2, SIR WINSTON (12-1): As I mentioned in my assessment of Admire, you have to take a stance with regard to the Withers figures. Sir Winston earned a 114 TimeformUS Speed Figure that day, which represents a 13-point improvement on his previous best and makes him a legitimate win candidate in this race. But is that a true number? While I would not go so far as to suggest that the number will be totally validated, I also do not want to imply that it is as wildly inaccurate as some handicappers are suggesting. Perhaps the TimeformUS and Beyer figures are each about five points too high. I believe Sir Winston would still be a horse who is worthy of consideration after such a slight reduction. Regardless of the speed figure, the Withers is still a race that needs to be assessed from a trip perspective, and Sir Winston actually ran quite well within that context. The pace of that race was hardly fast, and the early leaders dominated throughout. Therefore, Sir Winston deserves some credit for passing horses in the lane and closing to be fourth.
While some horses in his pedigree handled turf and synthetic surfaces, he’s a son of Awesome Again out of an Afleet Alex mare, so it should not come as a shock to anyone that he appeared to improve moving back to conventional dirt. He appears to be improving at the right time and he is likely to receive a more favorable pace scenario ahead of him. He’s hardly among the most likely winners of this race, but I think he’s a horse who is worthy of inclusion at a price of 8-1 or higher. Don’t underestimate.
#3, LORD DRAGON (30-1): This recent maiden winner has never earned a competitive speed figure and there are more capable late runners in this field. Pass.
#4, DREAM MAKER (4-1): He’s the so-called “wise guy” horse in this field, and anyone who watches the replay of his most recent Fair Grounds victory can see why. From a purely visual standpoint, he appeared to be a different horse than the one we saw as a 2-year-old. He was more aggressive after the start, traveled in the bridle, and pulled away powerfully once Florent Geroux let him loose in the lane. This is clearly a 3-year-old who has grown up. The impression he left was confirmed by the stark improvement in his figures, as he earned a 114 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the effort. Unlike the suspicious Withers numbers, we have already gotten some confirmation that Dream Maker’s number is legitimate. The second-place finisher out of that race, Courtyard, returned to win his next start while improving his figure by three points, and the fourth-place finisher also returned to win with a number 10 points higher.
Those who closely followed Dream Maker’s frustrating 2-year-old campaign should not be surprised by this colt’s sudden ascension. After an impressive, if somewhat slow, debut victory at Churchill Downs, he was thrown directly into Grade 1 company, a testament to the barn’s confidence in his ability. He actually showed some improvement in the Hopeful despite racing greenly in a race that was not conducive to his running style. Then the wheels came off in the Breeders’ Futurity, as the horse succumbed to immaturity. He blew the start, getting bumped around and left at the back of the pack heading into the clubhouse turn. He basically had no chance from there, and Leparoux did not persevere with him. While that campaign ended in disappointment, it laid the groundwork for the improvement we saw at Fair Grounds last month. And the best may still be yet to come. This colt is a son of top sire Tapit from a classy John Oxley-bred female family tracing back to his champion mare Beautiful Pleasure. I get the sense this horse is the real deal and this Tampa Bay Derby has the potential to vault him into a prominent position on the Derby leaderboard. The selection.
#5, WELL DEFINED (7-2): There’s little doubt that he was defeating a weaker group when he won the Sam F. Davis four weeks ago, but he nevertheless ran quite well to claim victory that day. His winning TimeformUS Speed Figure of 116 is the second-highest number earned by any horse in this field, only behind Win Win Win’s last sprint figure. The main question for Well Defined is trip, since he has been most successful when he is able to secure the early lead. All three of his victories have been earned in gate-to-wire fashion, whereas he has completely fallen apart in the late stages of races where he was denied the early lead. Therefore, the opening stages of this Tampa Bay Derby are critical for this colt. He has the advantage of a mid-field post position, whereas his main pace rival Zenden breaks from the far outside slot. On the other hand, Zenden has the highest Early Pace Rating, and flashed some serious speed when keeping pace with some very fast runners in the Swale last time out. Well Defined’s fate may depend on how intent Zenden’s connections are on challenging for the lead. Yet even if Well Defined is able to outsprint that rival in the early stages, a more taxing pace situation could leave him vulnerable in the lane. The fractions of the Sam F. Davis were fairly moderate, and that field did not feature nearly as many quality late runners as we find in this Tampa Bay Derby. Facing a more difficult task.
#6, OUTSHINE (8-1): This colt got the job done in his seven-furlong 3-year-old debut, and now attempts to negotiate two turns for the first time. He was somewhat fortunate in that return effort, as today’s rival The Right Path looked poised to issue a late challenge before getting steadied at the eighth pole. Outshine’s 102 TimeformUS Speed Figure is well below the top numbers earned by many of his rivals, so he will have significantly improve on the stretch-out. I’m somewhat skeptical that he will be able to do so. His female family is geared toward speed, as his dam was an accomplished turf sprinter and he is a full brother to multiple sprint winner Bowie. Furthermore, Todd Pletcher’s performance with this crop of 3-year-olds has been highly disappointing. The only runner among them who has won a graded stakes event on the dirt is Sombeyay, who achieved that victory back in July of last year. Recent results do not suggest the pattern is about to shift. Pass.
#7, WIN WIN WIN (5-2): This colt remains an anomaly after four career starts. His pedigree suggests that he should be a turf horse, since he’s sired by solid turf influence Hat Trick. Yet his connections have been given no reason to switch him to grass after his debut was rained off the turf. He won that day and has continued to improve with each subsequent dirt start. Now the question hanging over his head is one of stamina, since he has displayed incredible speed in his races to date. The 121 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he was assigned for his dominating win in the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes is easily the highest in the field. While some may be tempted to question the predictive ability of that number given the lackluster subsequent performances of a few also-rans, Win Win Win had previously earned respectable speed figures of 109 and 111 in his two prior performances. It’s quite clear that he is among the fastest horses in this group. So, can he handle the stretch-out?
He’s already outrun his grassy pedigree, so I’m not sure how much value we can extract from those influences. Yet, it is worth noting that Hat Trick is an extremely versatile sire when it comes to distance preferences. He seems equally as proficient at producing turf sprinters as he is at getting turf marathon runners. While his dam won sprinting on dirt and has primarily produced dirt sprinters, she is out of Devotion Unbridled. That Live Oak Plantation homebred was an accomplished dirt router who was stakes-placed at 1 1/8 miles. From a physical perspective, Win Win Win presents himself as a horse who should have no trouble handling the distance of the Tampa Bay Derby. He has scope and a lengthy stride, which is not indicative of sprint ability. He gave no indications that he was about to slow down when striding out through the wire in the Pasco, so I’m not too concerned about his stamina. The only real question for him in my mind is one of class, since he’s defeated inferior rivals in his visually impressive sprint scores. I’m not going to be surprised if he’s up to the challenge, but I still believe he’s unlikely to offer sufficient value at anything below his morning line price. The horse to beat.
#8, THE RIGHT PATH (15-1): He’s going to be a significantly bigger price than Outshine, who defeated him in that Gulfstream allowance race last time. However, I slightly prefer this colt. The Right Path was sitting a very good trip chasing outside, but was forced to come under pressure a long way from home. He seemed to have trouble keeping up with that sprint tempo, yet he nevertheless battled on gamely, even after getting steadied between horses and losing momentum at the eighth pole. Given this colt’s persistence, I have more confidence that he will stretch out. His pedigree certainly suggests that this distance should be no issue since he’s by Quality Road out of a half-sister to Fed Biz. Worth including underneath.
#9, DUNPH (20-1): This once-promising gelding seems to be heading in the wrong direction. He’s chased fast paces and folded in his two prior attempts in graded stakes and it’s hard to envision him working out a more favorable trip this time. Pass.
#10, TACITUS (12-1): This colt showed a ton of promise in his debut at Belmont, battling on gamely to finish a close fourth behind Kentucky Wildcat, who would go on to be second in the Sam F. Davis. Given that auspicious debut, I expected to see more out of him in his second start. He got the job done as the 3-5 favorite, but he had to work awfully hard to forge ahead of early leader Erlich, who is still trying to break out of the maiden ranks at Aqueduct. His pedigree suggests that he has a right to be at least this good, since he’s by leading sire Tapit out of champion mare Close Hatches. However, I’m skeptical that he’s ready to deliver on those bloodlines at this point in his career. Stablemate Hidden Scroll easily handled him in a recent workout, and Bill Mott has chosen an awfully ambitious spot for his return from the layoff. A victory appears to be out of reach at this point. Exotics possibility.
#11, ZENDEN (8-1): His impact on this race will be felt, even if only due to his participation in the early pace. He’s shown plenty of speed in his recent sprint efforts, especially when chasing an extremely fast pace in the Swale last time out. While his sire Fed Biz was a versatile racehorse, Zenden’s dam has produced a couple of siblings who both excelled at sprint distances. I’m somewhat skeptical about this colt’s ability to outduel the classy Well Defined and fend off the closers. At the very least, he figures to make the race more interesting. Pass.
I respect likely favorite Win Win Win (#7) and I will not be at all surprised if he handles the stretch-out in distance. The main question for him is one of value, since he may drift down off that 5-2 morning line price. I’m taking a shot against him with DREAM MAKER (#4), who was very impressive in his Fair Grounds return and has a right to move forward off that effort. At a bigger price, I also want to include Mark Casse’s other runner, Sir Winston (#2), who appears to be heading in the right direction and should get a favorable setup.
Exacta Box: 2,4,7
Exacta: 4 with 1,5,8
Trifecta: 4 with 2,7 with 1,2,5,7,8,10
Trifecta: 2,7 with 4 with 1,2,5,7,8,10