Calumet Farm's favored Region Of Merit wore down front-running Hear No Evil in deep stretch and held off a determined late run from Aristocat to take Sunday's $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III).
The son of Touch Gold, ridden by Eibar Coa, posted a 3/4-length win over Aristocat in a final time of 1:44 3/5 for the 1 1/16-mile event for 3-year-olds. Hear No Evil was a neck behind the runner-up.
It was the fourth straight win for Region of Merit, who was making his first stakes race appearance.
Trainer Christophe Clement said afterward that the $475,000 Fasig-Tipton August 2001 purchase would probably go in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland April 12.
Region Of Merit raced in third place outside of Hear No Evil and Cajun Beat through the opening first quarter of :23 1/5 and the half in :47. Region of Merit moved up on the turn in a six-furlong time of 1:11.68 but had to work in the closing stages to get by Hear No Evil. After taking a short lead, Aristocat and jockey John Velazquez came five wide from well back in the pack in the stretch to make it close.
Region of Merit improved to 4-for-5 in his career, picking up a $150,000 first prize. He has career earnings of $221,550. Louie J. Roussel III bred him in Kentucky.
Sent off at 8-5, the winner paid $5.20, $3 and $2.40. Aristocat, the 9-5 second choice, returned $3 and $2.89. Hear No Evil's show price was $5.60.