Tracy Farmer's Sun King, sent off as the 1-20 wagering favorite in the $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) Saturday, showed some true grit while fending off a couple of challenges from the quarter pole to mid-stretch before pulling away to a 3 1/4-length victory.
The handsome son of Charismatic led from the start in the 1 1/16-mile dirt test for 3-year-olds, in which he clocked a time of 1:43 4/5, slightly off the track mark of 1:43 2/5. Forever Wild, 27-1, finished second with 62-1 Global Trader third, 6 3/4 lengths behind the winner.
Sun King broke like a shot and immediately went to the lead under winning rider Edgar Prado, then rated well to take the field through casual fractions of :23.78, :48.65,and 1:13.54 for the first six furlongs.
While galloping easily, Sun King confronted late challenges from Forever Wild and Medigating, who appeared to poke a nose in front rounding the far turn.
Prado's whip came out nearing the 3/16 pole, first left handed, then right, and Sun King knew it was time to go.
With 110 yards to go, Sun King lowered his belly and put the matter to rest. Sun King came home the last 2 1/2 furlongs in :30.14.
"I'm very happy with the way he ran," said winning trainer Nick Zito. "I was surprised he went to the lead. I think [Prado] wanted to school him and see how much horse he really had and he did a good job. Sometimes you have to do that. The horse is versatile."
"Tampa's a nice safe track," Zito said of the surface. "I was glad it was a small field. You take what you can get to set him up good for the Bluegrass (gr. I). You don't want to overdo it in Florida, California, Oaklawn, no matter where you stable. We had a good winter so far and Tampa been good to us."
Prado said he rode to Zito's instructions. "I was riding with confidence every step of the way and when he felt the company of another horse coming he caught another gear."
Sun King improved to 2-for-2 this year.
The Blue Grass at Keeneland is April 16, with the Derby on May 7.
Sun King returned $2.10, $2.10 and $2.10. Forever Wild returned $2.10 and $2.10 and Global Trader was $2.10 to show.
Medigating, Criminal Mind, Coyoteshighestcall and Nicandro followed.
With the victory, Sun King earned $150,000 to boost his earnings to $414,650.