Five things to know for 2018 Tampa Bay Derby

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

March 9th, 2018


Saturday’s $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) may not shape up as a San Felipe (G2)-style blockbuster, but the Kentucky Derby (G1) scoring race offers plenty of intrigue of another kind.

The 1 1/16-mile test can be interpreted as a crossroads for a few of the leading contenders. Namely, they’ll be forced to decide at some point whether to keep pursuing the Triple Crown trail, and Tampa may be a tipping point depending upon how the 50-20-10-5 points fall.

Here are my five things to know for the Tampa Bay Derby:

1. The local prep, the February 10 Sam F. Davis (G3), goes on trial. The Mark Casse-trained Flameaway belied his status as the only Davis entrant not nominated to the Triple Crown by upending Catholic Boy in stakes-record time. That obviously makes him a threat back over the same track and trip, but he probably won't get the same set-up on the front end. Not that he needs it – Flameaway has won from off the pace too, on every kind of surface from synthetic and turf to slop. Still, he had the advantage of race-fitness over Catholic Boy, and the Davis smacks of a perfect storm that isn’t necessarily replicable here. Although Casse indicated that Flameaway would be made eligible to the Triple Crown as a late nominee, you’ve got to wonder whether the Queen’s Plate isn’t a more attainable objective for the Ontario-bred. He could earn the right to take the Derby road to Woodbine, but at a certain point, connections may find it wiser to focus on the Canadian classic.

Hard-charging Davis third Vino Rosso has greater cause to move forward in first-time blinkers for Todd Pletcher. The Curlin colt ran like a horse in the process of adjusting to the situation in his stakes debut. Getting the hang of things only when the race was virtually over, he flashed home well. On Saturday we’ll find out if he needs more tutorials on the trail, or if he’s ready to graduate now as a serious Derby contender.

2. Untamed Domain can advertise the strength of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) in his dirt debut. As a wide-trip runner-up at Del Mar, negotiating 68 feet more than the victorious Mendelssohn, Untamed Domain could argue that he ran the stronger race in defeat. That’s saying something, since the Juvenile Turf also-rans include Flameaway and Catholic Boy as well as the future Southwest (G3) winner My Boy Jack and Risen Star (G2) near-misser Snapper Sinclair.

Untamed Domain has another angle to recommend him, albeit more speculative. He’s from the first North American crop of Animal Kingdom, the synthetic/turf performer who made history as the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby in his dirt debut. And to complete the parallel, Graham Motion has trained both father and son.

Unlike his sire, Untamed Domain had more experience, and at a higher level, at two. Now he one-ups Dad again by taking a test spin on dirt along the Derby trail. But will he prove as versatile as Animal Kingdom, a triple-surface Grade/Group 1 performer? I certainly hope so. Yet it must be admitted that Untamed Domain’s dam, Ciao, is a pure turfiste by Lear Fan out of a Nureyev mare. If Untamed Domain fails to fulfill our hopes on dirt and instead takes more after Mom, the Belmont Derby (G1) may be the one he ends up eyeing.

3. World of Trouble could be gone if duplicating his Pasco performance around two turns. The Jason Servis pupil looked outstanding when opening up by 13 lengths in near track-record time for seven furlongs. And considering his eventful trip when just edged in the Affirmed division of the Florida Sire S. last September, the son of Kantharos should probably be unbeaten in three starts.

Pedigree offers mixed messages, however, about his capacity to stretch out in graded company. His three-quarter brother, Bucchero, is effective at up to 1 1/16 miles, but versus Indiana-bred stakes rivals, and he’s reached a higher level as a turf sprinter. If anything, World of Trouble has an even speedier profile than Bucchero, since his dam (Bucchero’s half-sister) is by Valid Expectations. The Tampa Bay Derby may decide if he’s better off framing his campaign around the King’s Bishop (I mean the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial) (G1) than the Kentucky Derby.

4. Tiz Mischief aims to become the latest stakes winner to emerge from the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). The form of Churchill’s signature juvenile race wasn’t looking too persuasive by early February, when KJC near-misser Tiz Mischief checked in a distant third behind Audible in his Holy Bull (G2) reappearance. But what a difference a month makes. Since then, three KJC alumni have won notable stakes: third-placer Promises Fulfilled jumped up to surprise the Fountain of Youth (G2), and also-rans Reride and Bravazo also moved forward. Reride has captured two straight stakes, the Mine That Bird Derby much more emphatically than his prior score in the Big Drama, and Bravazo upset the Risen Star. As a Dale Romans pupil like Promises Fulfilled, Tiz Mischief is eligible to make similar improvement. Note that he’s the only Romans runner set to start in this spot. Free Drop Billy was entered here as a back-up plan in case weather woes interfered with his travel north for the Gotham (G3), but Daily Racing Form’s David Grening reported that he would indeed be Aqueduct-bound (along with Kiaran McLaughlin’s cross-entered Enticed).

5. Quip and Grandpa Knows Best may be capable of more than they’ve shown so far. The KJC angle works for Quip too, since his only loss was a troubled seventh in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Campaigned by breeder WinStar Farm in partnership with China Horse Club and SF Racing, the Rodolphe Brisset trainee showed early foot to win first up at Churchill and romp in a Keeneland allowance. The nicely-bred son of Distorted Humor, whose dam is a half to Normandy Invasion, may well use that speed to gain position from his outside post. Stakes debuter Grandpa Knows Best, a More Than Ready colt from the family of Chitu, has won his past two at Churchill for Ken McPeek.

For additional data, see the free Brisnet past performances for the Tampa Bay Derby, and check out the tip sheet for a wagering strategy.

Untamed Domain photo courtesy WEG/Michael Burns Photography