Region of Merit Favored in Tampa Bay Derby

(from track report)
Calumet Farm's Region of Merit is the 5-2 morning line favorite for Sunday's $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III). The son of Touch Gold will break from the outside post position in the nine-horse field.

In the $150,000 Florida Oaks (gr. III), also to be run on Sunday, Ebony Breeze is the one to beat in the six-horse field of 3-year-old fillies.

The big day, billed as Tampa Bay Downs' "Festival Day" of racing will also feature the $100,000 Hillsborough Stakes. Incorporating overnight purses, the 13-race card will offer more than $600,000 in purses.

Region of Merit will carry a three-race winning streak into the 1 1/16-mile test for 3-year-olds having most recently demolished a Gulfstream Park allowance field by five lengths on Feb. 16.

Purchased by Calumet Farm for $475,000 from Lane's End, agent, at the 2001 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale, Region of Merit is conditioned by Christophe Clement and will be ridden by Eibar Coa who has been in the irons for the colt's two most recent victories.

Strength Within, second to Lion Tamer in the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) on Feb. 15, is the second choice at odds of 7-2. Strength Within will break from the fourth post position under Mark Guidry, who piloted the son of Belong to Me to his maiden win at Gulfstream on Jan. 11. A Glen Hill Farm Florida home-bred, Strength Within is conditioned by Tom Proctor, who is clicking at a 42 percent win rate at the current Tampa Bay Downs meet.

Todd Pletcher-trainee Aristocat, owned by Michael Tabor, will break from the fourth post position under John Velazquez and was installed at odds of 4-1 in the morning line.

The Tampa Bay Derby will be the 11th of 13 races on the card. Post time will be approximately 5:18 p.m. EDT and the race will be broadcast on ESPN2.

In the Florida Oaks, Kinsman Stable's Ebony Breeze, a two time Tampa stakes winner trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott, became the class of the field after Ivanavinalot scratched to run in the Bonnie Miss Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream on Friday.

The Florida Oaks will be the 12th race on the card with an approximate post time of 5:45 p.m. EDT.

$250,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III), 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 mile
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Fast Eddie D (KY), 116, Martin R. Ramirez
2. Cajun Beat (KY), 118, Gary Boulanger
3. White Buck (FL), 120, Roger I. Velez
4 Strength Within (FL), 116, Mark Guidry
5 Popular Groom (KY), 118, Joseph C. Judice
6 Aristocat (KY), 118, John R. Velazquez
7 Hear No Evil (FL), 123, Manoel R. Cruz
8 Freedom Lane (FL), 118, Russell W. Woolsey
9 Region of Merit (KY), 120, Eibar Coa

$150,000 Florida Oaks (gr. III), 3-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 mile
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Dakota Light (FL), 122, Eibar Coa
2. Ebony Breeze (KY), 120, Mark Guidry
3.Crimson and Roses (FL), 116, Roger I. Velez
4.Groomeroma (FL), 116, Jose C. Ferrer
5. Judging Lady (KY) , 116, Jesus Lopez Castanon
6.Never Fail (FL), 118, Manoel R. Cruz
7.Ivanavinalot (FL), 122, John R. Velazquez