Prospective landed a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) when he outfought Golden Ticket in deep stretch to win the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) by three-quarters of a length March 10 (VIDEO).
Ridden to victory by Luis Contreras for trainer Mark Casse and owner John Oxley, Prospective held off outsider Golden Ticket in the lane after getting the lead rounding the final turn from pacesetter Cajun Charlie. Cozzetti ran on for third in a field reduced to 11 by the scratch of Take Charge Indy.
“I rode him pretty hard," laughed a hoarse Casse afterward. "Was I worried? Well, I wish he could have won by five. But was I worried, you know, he’s a fighter, I didn’t really think anybody would beat him once he made the lead. I was shocked he made the lead so early. I was like, well, OK, but with the blinkers he was much more aggressive today. He’s a character—he just does what he has to do.
"This horse to make it to the Derby, I think this horse thrives with racing, so we definitely would have to run another time somewhere. Maybe the Wood Memorial (gr. I)," Casse added.
Spring Hill Farm, the 2-1 favorite for trainer Todd Pletcher, finished fourth. The winning time for the 1 1/16-mile test of 3-year-olds was 1:43.35 on a fast track.
Prospective wore blinkers for the first time in the Tampa Bay Derby. A son of Malibu Moon bred in Kentucky by Spendthrift Farm, the colt ran second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Feb. 4. He was wide on both turns that day but closed well to finish 1 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Battle Hardened, who ran sixth in the Tampa Bay Derby.
“We put blinkers on to get him to focus a little more," Casse said. "When we watched him in the Sam F. Davis, he was running down the backside the entire way with his head cocked and he was kind of looking at things."
The victory was worth $210,000 in grade earnings for Prospective, which combined with the runner-up finish in the Sam Davis and his victory in Woodbine's Grey Stakes (Can-III) last fall assures the handsome dark bay/brown colt of a spot in the gate for the Kentucky Derby.
Breaking from the rail, 3-1 shot Prospective raced mid-pack early as Cajun Charlie jumped to a 4 1/2-length lead while clicking off an opening quarter-mile of :22.69 and a half in :47.08. Prospective was angled off the inside slightly while advancing into fourth on the backstretch and launched his bid on the turn.
Prospective gained a slight advantage after completing six furlongs in 1:11.61 and led the field into the stretch. But Golden Ticket got a clean run through along the rail for Manoel Cruz to put his head in front near mid-stretch. Prospective fought back on the outside, however, and was inching away for Contreras as they reached the wire.
"We saved all the ground early; the pace was much faster than in the Davis and the blinkers seemed to make him more aggressive," Contreras said. "But he let me keep him in hand when there was an opening between horses making the far turn. I asked him again entering the stretch and I thought we had it won, but then (Golden Ticket) came up inside us and he had to respond again and we came on again.
“(The Kentucky Derby) is my dream," Contreras added. "It is all jockeys’ dream.”
Cozzetti, 10th on the bend for Jose Lezcano after being slow to settle, gained ground through the stretch to finish third, 3 3/4 lengths behind the winner. Spring Hill, losing for the firt time in three starts, broke awkwardly and hit the side of the starting gate. He was in striking position for Javier Castellano before giving way in the homestretch.
Prospective began his year with a half-length victory in Tampa's seven-furlong Pasco Stakes. He improved his career mark to 4-2-0 in seven starts with overall earnings of $441,317.
“Mr. Oxley had hip surgery a couple of weeks ago," Casse said. "He is doing very well and I’m sure he’s very happy and I’m sure he’ll be fine for the next one."
He carried 120 pounds to victory and paid $8.20, $4.20, and $3.40 as the third choice, while topping a $93 exacta. Golden Ticket, who broke his maiden in his sixth start for trainer Ken McPeek Feb. 11 in an off-the-turf race at Gulfstream Park, returned $11.20 and $7.80. Cozzetti, shifted to the dirt by Dale Romans after a fourth-place finish in Gulfstream's Kitten Joy Stakes Jan. 21, was $5.40 to show.
Spring Hill Farm was followed by Ravelo's Boy, Battle Hardened, Twin, Chief Energy, Fox Rules, Cajun Charlie, and Tell All You Know.