Eric Fein and Vic Carlson’s Musket Man found his best stride inside the sixteenth-pole and edged out longshot Join in the Dance by a neck to win the $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) (VIDEO) March 14.
Ridden by Tampa Bay leading rider Daniel Centeno, Musket Man needed the entire stretch to catch Join in the Dance, who took over after a half-mile under Elvis Trujillo and inched away to what looked like an upset victory in deep stretch. Still with significant ground to make up in the final half-furlong, Musket Man found another gear and got up just before the wire.
Trained by Derek Ryan, Musket Man earned $180,000 for the win and established himself as a contender for the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) May 2 at Churchill Downs. The final time for 1 1/16 miles on the fast dirt was 1:43.67, a little more than a half-second off the track record set by Street Sense in 2007.
"We’ll take him back to the barn and see how he comes out," said Ryan. "He’s nominated for the Illinois Derby (gr. II) at Hawthorne, but the owners are all from New York, so we might have to look at the Wood (Memorial, gr. I) too. We just have to see how he comes out of it and go from there.
"Daniel had been working him in the mornings and he never worked as well for anyone else. The last two times, when Daniel pulled up he told me, 'This horse works like a freak for me.' Usually, when he works he hits the eighth-pole and waits; I told Daniel that he had to get into him to teach him that he has to go on. I’ll definitely keep Danny on him now.”
Join in the Dance, sent off at 35-1, was a clear second, 2 1/2 lengths better than 43-1 Justdontcallmejeri. Nowhere to Hide was fourth in a field of ten 3-year-olds. General Quarters, who won the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) last month over the same track, broke poorly and finished fifth. Post time favorite Hello Broadway, runner-up in the Hutcheson (gr. II) at Gulfstream in January, was a disappointing seventh.
Musket Man raced mid-pack through the early stages of the Tampa Bay Derby, with Perfect Bull setting the pace through an opening quarter-mile in :24.11. Join in the Dance quickly moved in on the early leader and took a short advantage. He got a half-mile in :48.34 and six furlongs in 1:12.45. Bear's Rocket was also close up until the top of the stretch before falling back. Justdontcallmejeri was still in contention for top prize until the sixteenth-pole.
Musket Man was still in eighth-place after six furlongs, but made his winning move around the late stages of the far turn while being swung-five wide. The son of Yonaguska had three lengths to make up on Join in the Dance at the top of the stretch. He raced in between horses and needed every yard of the final furlong to get by the tough-luck runner-up.
"I am really happy for myself and for Mr. Ryan, the trainer, who gave me this chance," said Centeno. "I got in behind a bunch of horses early and he didn't like it, but I was able to ease him out behind them getting to the turn. We still had a lot to do getting into the stretch and I said, 'you better not get lazy now.' I went after him and let him know I wanted his run and he changed leads in mid-stretch, and just sort of took off for me. He sure wasn't lazy at the end."
Musket Man entered the race off a third-place finish in the Feb. 14 Sam Davis when he was more than six lengths in back of General Quarters under Jose Lezcano. Prior to that, the dark bay colt had won his previous three starts, including the Jan. 17 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay when beating General Quarters by a length. He broke his maiden at Belmont in October and took a six-furlong allowance contest at Philadelphia Park in November to close out his juvenile campaign.
Fein also won the Tampa Bay Derby in 2008 with Big Truck.
Bred in Kentucky by Jim E. Nelson and Sergio De Sousa, Musket Man is out of Fortunate Prospect mare Fortuesque.
Sent off as the third choice, Musket Man paid $13.80, $7.80 and $6. The exacta (2-7) returned $417.40, while the trifecta (2-7-10) was worth a whopping $10,232.20.