Six things to know for Tampa Bay Derby

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March 10th, 2017

After Saturday’s $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) lost its marquee attraction, McCraken, due to a reportedly minor ankle strain, the Kentucky Derby (G1) prep now has a very open look. That equates to a golden opportunity for the three-year-old who manages to burst from the pack and claim the 50 points for the winner.

Since McCraken would have been the overwhelming favorite here, the obvious starting point is with those who followed him home in the February 11 Sam F. Davis (G3) over this track and 1 1/16-mile trip.

1. Todd Pletcher’s Tapwrit, runner-up to McCraken in the Davis, rates as the 3-1 morning-line favorite. The $1.2 million Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling purchase had to wait for room turning into the stretch, then finally altered course to the outside, before closing well to go down by 1 1/2 lengths. McCraken broke the track record by clocking 1:42.45, and so did Tapwrit, by finishing in 1:42.70 according to Trakus. But it should be noted that McCraken was conceding six pounds to Tapwrit as the 122-pound highweight, lacking race-fitness, and enduring a wider trip (particularly when making his sweeping move around the far turn).

Tapwrit is well qualified to take the next step here. Yet there are possible vulnerabilities. The son of Tapit and 2006 Spinaway (G1) winner Appealing Zophie hasn’t followed the prototypical pattern for a top Pletcher Derby candidate. He went to Gulfstream Park West to break his maiden, and made his stakes debut (as a main-track-only) in the off-the-turf Pulpit at Gulfstream. Of course, that might just be ancient history now that he’s very much on the improve. But Tapwrit also benefited from his trip in the Davis. Aside from his temporary hold-up, he actually had an advantageous ground-saving passage just behind the pace. A couple of his beaten foes had it a lot tougher, and thereby may be eligible to perform better in the rematch.

2. Wild Shot, fourth in the Davis after a wide trip, was previously second to McCraken in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). Trained by Rusty Arnold for historic Calumet Farm, the Trappe Shot colt made a circling move to threaten in the Davis before fading late. But he covered the most ground of all – 49 feet more than Tapwrit and 55 feet more than third-placer (and arguably overeager front runner) State of Honor, according to Trakus. Unfortunately, Wild Shot drew poorly here in post 9 of 10. Unless jockey Robby Albarado sends him in a race that has enough pace already, he’ll likely get stuck on the overland route if trying to be a close stalker.

Yet Wild Shot is too formful to discount. He set the pace before tiring to third (behind champion Classic Empire) in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, where he was stretching out off a sprint maiden. Wild Shot moved forward in his second route attempt in the Kentucky Jockey Club, arguing the pace and beating all bar McCraken handily. A similar pattern could be in play at Tampa: a tiring effort going two turns in his reappearance, setting him up for a progression next time. Again, the post may be the proverbial fly in the ointment.

3. No Dozing, a disappointing sixth in the Davis as a “wise guy” horse, gets another chance to atone. I can say that as a quasi-wise guy who didn’t try to beat McCraken in the Davis but still expected a strong effort from No Dozing. As a Lael Stables homebred from the first crop of Union Rags, he’s easy to root for. Alas, he sputtered on the backstretch and wound up getting drubbed by 10 lengths. Trainer Arnaud Delacour could pinpoint no reason for the no-show. Granted, he was drawn out wide in post 9, but he was through before ground loss could tell the tale, and he didn’t even lose as much ground as Wild Shot did (21 feet less, per Trakus).

Now No Dozing has even more questions to answer. His second in the Remsen (G2) hasn’t stood the test of time, with the Remsen alumni flopping all over the Derby trail. Despite his sneaky fourth in the Breeders’ Futurity, so far he’s promised more than delivered. But he has come back to fire a bullet over the Tampa oval. Loathe to give up on him just yet, I harbor a small hope that maybe No Dozing can get back on track from post 4.

4. Trainer Mark Hennig, who scratched Beasley from last Saturday’s Fountain of Youth (G2) in favor of Tampa, may have made an inspired call. Had he stayed at Gulfstream, the $340,000 son of Shackleford would probably have been close to the pace scrum that set it up for Gunnevera’s dynamic closing kick. There’s no Gunnevera here, unless Tapwrit improves a lot more than forecast. And while Beasley can go forward, he doesn’t necessarily need the lead. New rider Irad Ortiz Jr. may be able to secure the ideal position, depending upon how the tactical situation presents itself. His scorching bullet half at Gulfstream in :46.90 implies that he’s ready to wing it, though.

Aside from his plucky attitude, Beasley brings two tantalizing formlines from his allowance losses. Normally “two-time allowance runner-up” doesn’t suggest next-out Derby prep winner, but he’s placed to a couple of esteemed opponents who’ve been targeting significant stakes. A fast-finishing second to Classic Rock (bound for the San Vicente [G2] until spiking a fever), Beasley was last seen forcing Pletcher’s Battalion Runner to pull out all the stops to beat him in their mutual two-turn debut. Battalion Runner has long been penciled in for the Florida Derby (G1).

5. Sonic Mule appears to be a second stringer twice over, but possibly capable of more. He’s the lesser half of Pletcher’s duo, outshone by stablemate Tapwrit, and also of Calumet’s, since fellow colorbearer Wild Shot has the stronger two-turn resume.

So far, Sonic Mule has spent most of his time around one turn, grinding out wins in the Buffalo Man and Mucho Macho Man prior to a third in the Swale (G2). Yet as a son of Distorted Humor and an A.P. Indy mare, he ought to cope with this distance. Perhaps his losses over a route last season were attributable to immaturity. At any rate, the Tampa Bay Derby may help determine his future path.

6. Longshots worth a look in this open renewal are Basha (12-1), Tale of Silence (15-1), and The Money Monster (15-1). Basha, who’s placed behind Pletcher’s Fact Finding and Third Day in a pair of minor stakes around Gulfstream’s one-turn mile, is bred to appreciate the step up to two turns. By Uncle Mo and out of the long-winded turf mare Lemonette, he hails from the family of Behrens (and, coincidentally, Beasley). Tale of Silence, a full brother to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire and sire Tale of Ekati, exits a distant second to Pletcher’s unbeaten flyer Malagacy (who’s aiming for the Rebel [G2]). Like No Dozing, Tale of Silence must shake the stigma of being the sixth-place finisher in the Remsen. The Money Monster, last seen landing the Pasco at Tampa, makes his first start for new ownership and a new barn – Hall of Famer Bill Mott. Joel Rosario picks up the mount on the son of Majestic Warrior, who’s perfect from two starts.

Good luck with your Tampa Bay Derby handicapping, and be sure to use the free Brisnet PPs!

Tapwrit photo courtesy of Kenny Martin/Coglianese Photography.