Handicappers who take on the $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) will probably find their challenge not in choosing a winner, but in selecting the order of finish behind Robert LaPenta’s War Pass
. That’s because the unbeaten Nick Zito trainee is the predictable favorite for this 1 1/16-mile March 15 event.
Part of Tampa Bay's Festival Day, the Tampa Bay Derby will be broadcast live on TVG, America's Horse Racing Network, from 5:00-6:00 p.m. (EST). Festival Day at Tampa Bay Downs will also feature the $200,000 Florida Oaks (gr. II) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, the $175,000 Hillsborough Stakes (gr. IIIT) for older females at 1 1/8 miles on turf, and the $75,000 Turf Dash at five furlongs.
But all eyes will be on War Pass, the 2-year-old champion of 2007 and winner of that year’s running of the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), when seven 3-year-olds go postward in the prep for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
The Cherokee Run colt has done everything asked of him thus far, from his maiden debut at Saratoga last July to a romp over a lesser field in a one-mile allowance event at Gulfstream Feb. 24. He comes into the Tampa Bay Derby off that 7 ½-length score, looking to extend his winning streak to six impressive front-running performances.
Bred in Kentucky by Seth Hancock’s Cherry Valley Farm, out of the Mr. Prospector mare Vue, he shows no indication of slowing down and will break from post three under regular rider Cornelio Velasquez.
The other “top guns” of this year’s 3-year-old season are spending their prep time elsewhere. Only two other colts whose names have appeared on the Kentucky Derby trail will contest the Tampa Bay Derby, and both have yet to procure graded stakes wins.
Dogwood Stable’s Atoned comes into the race off a troubled runner-up effort behind Court Vision in Aqueduct’s Nov. 24 Remsen Stakes (gr. II) for trainer Todd Pletcher. In that event, Atoned clipped heels on the first turn and stumbled, but actually took the lead with a three-wide run midstretch. He was caught by the winner to lose by a neck.
The son of Repent, bred in Florida by Anthony and Mitzi Robinson out of the Icecapade mare Amidst, registered back-to-back seconds in the Dover and Whirling Ash Stakes at Delaware Park last summer after winning the Continental Mile Stakes at Monmouth Park by three lengths. Pletcher is still hoping he’ll be a contender for the Kentucky Derby as he breaks from post seven under John Velazquez.
“He had a tough trip around the first turn (in the Remsen) and I thought ran a very courageous race after that,” Pletcher said. “We’re very pleased with the way he’s come back; we gave him a break after the Remsen and have more or less been pointing for the Tampa Bay Derby since then. We’ve got a tall task ahead of us with War Pass being in there but we’re hoping we can show up and run well.”
Barclay Tagg trainee Big Truck has experience over the Tampa Bay surface after making a move four-wide but failing to catch Fierce Wind by a half-length in the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis Stakes Feb. 16. Still, the Hook and Laddercolt hasn’t won a race for owner Eric Fein since September of last year, when he scored in the seven-furlong Bertram F. Bongard Stakes at Belmont. He was fourth in the Remsen and fifth behind Smooth Air in Gulfstream’s Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) in January.
Bred in New York by A. Lakin and Sons, Big Truck is out of the Go for Gin mare Just a Ginny. He breaks from post six under Eibar Coa.
Of the four other runners, only two have won since earning their maiden scores. Trainer Dale Bennett sends out Wayne Bessier’s Illinois homebred Dynamic Wayne, an Eltishcolt who followed his maiden win with an allowance victory at Tampa going 1 1/16 miles Jan 25. That score was followed by a fourth-place effort in the Sam F. Davis.
Trainer Barry Rose sends out the Florida-bred First Tour gelding Make Me Zach, whose efforts for the Rose Family Stable have been 3-1-2 from 10 starts in allowance and claiming company.
Charles Spence’s Florida homebred Cigar Man (by Drewman
) and Timothy O’ Toole’s Gentlemen James (by Yankee Gentleman
) both have yet to win after breaking their maidens. Cigar Man broke his maiden for trainer Kathleen O’Connell at Calder last November and has raced four times since then without hitting the board. Gentleman James, bred in Kentucky by Tom Lauritsen, was second in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Jan. 19, but has not won in six starts since his maiden debut at Turfway in September of last year.
Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III, race 12, approximate post 5:50 p.m. EST), 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-olds*, dirt
*All runners but War Pass (122) carry 116 pounds
PP, Horse, Jockey
1. Cigar Man, Ronald Dale Allen Jr.
2. Gentleman James, David D. Amiss
3. War Pass, Cornelio Velasquez
4. Make Me Zach, Jose Alberto Rivera II
5. Dynamic Wayne, Pablo Morales
6. Big Truck, Eibar Coa
7. Atoned, John Velazquez