Head to Head: Handicapping the Tampa Bay Derby

Head to Head: Handicapping the Tampa Bay Derby
Photo: Carson Dennis / Eclipse Sportswire

The Grade 3, $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby is the second and final stop on Tampa Bay Downs' Road to the Kentucky Derby. Contested at 1 1/16 miles, the race is worth 100 qualifying points to be distributed on a 50-20-15-10-5 scale to the top five finishers.

This year's edition attracted a field of 12 3-year-olds. Nashua (G3) winner Champions Dream seeks redemption after being eased in last month's Sam F. Davis (G3). Groveland will be looking to do one better after running second to Litigate in that same race, while impressive allowance winner Tapit Trice makes his stakes debut.

Since the race's inception, only 2006 champion 2-year-old Street Sense has pulled off the Tampa Bay Derby/Kentucky Derby double. However, three of the last seven Tampa Bay Derby winners have run well in the Belmont Stakes. Tapwrit (2017) won, while Destin (2016) and Tacitus (2019) both finished third. Like Tapit Trice, Tapwrit and Tacitus are by Tapit.

There is a 40 percent chance of showers at Tampa Bay Downs Friday afternoon into the evening. However, Saturday will be sunny with a high of 82 to begin with, so the track should be fast at post time.

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and Ashley Tamulonis of From Coast to Coast stick their toes in the Tampa Bay waters searching for a payday.




1.  Lord Miles (12-1)

Lord Miles was off a tick slow in the Holy Bull Stakes and shuffled back to last. He was flat throughout, although he passed two tired horses. His overall speed ratings are average 80s, and he's a one-paced grinder. I don't think blinkers off will help. Pass.

Lord Miles was well regarded in the Holy Bull (G3) off a close third in the Mucho Macho Man but finished a dull sixth after an awkward start. This will be the Curlin colt's first start away from Gulfstream Park. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. takes the blinkers off, an angle in which he wins at a 23 percent rate (56 percent in the money). He also wins at an 18 percent rate with shippers (46 percent in the money). Only Holy Bull winner Rocket Can came back and ran a similar race in the Fountain of Youth, so it's hard to tell just how good the Holy Bull was. Exotics.


2.  Classic Car Wash (8-1)

This former maiden claimer is now graded stakes placed runner, yet his speed ratings have declined in his last three starts. Classic Car Wash was a one-paced grinder in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) and needed the length of the stretch to pass a staggering Zydeceaux. The Mark Casse trainee held off Classic Legacy for the show spot. However, his late-pace figures are middling. Pass.


Classic Car Wash ran third in the Sam F. Davis off two straight wins at Gulfstream Park, one of them on the Tapeta surface. Regular rider Emisael Jaramillo retains the mount, and he and trainer Mark Casse are winning at a 25 percent clip together (50 percent in the money). If Classic Car Wash runs a similar race to last time, he has a shot at hitting the board again. Exotics.


3.  Classic Legacy (6-1)

Classic Legacy graduated in his final start last year by 3 1/2 lengths, but wasn't flattered when the second- and third-place finishers were off the board in their next starts. In his 3-year-old seasonal debut, Into Mischief's son faced winners around two turns at a new track. That can be a lot to overcome, especially because he played bumper cars at the beginning of the race. However, Classic Legacy made a late bid, only to fall short of third place by a head. This half-brother to Pegasus World Cup hero Art Collector should improve in his second start. Exotics.


Classic Legacy ran a solid fourth last out in the Sam F. Davis off a career-best race two starts back. Irad Ortiz Jr. replaces Junior Alvarado in the irons. Trainer Bill Mott is 18 percent in graded stakes (48 percent in the money) and 22 percent with runners second off the layoff (54 percent in the money). I anticipate Classic Legacy improving with the rider change and a start under his girth. Exotics.


4.  Groveland (6-1)

Groveland positioned himself behind the pace in the Sam Davis Stakes. He started to move up the rail at the top of the far turn but had to steady briefly behind Zydeceaux and lost momentum. He hit some traffic down the stretch and couldn't hold off the late-running Litigate for the win but held on for second. As a bit of trivia, Groveland's dam is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Better Lucky. That one's son Kentucky Wildcat was second in the 2019 Sam F. Davis. Groveland impressed me with his tenacity in the race, and with a clean trip, he could surprise. Contender.

By 2006 Tampa Bay Derby hero Street Sense, Groveland has never been out of the trifecta in five starts, four of them at Tampa Bay Downs. He has just one win but was runner-up to Prairie Hawk in an allowance/optional claiming event and then Litigate in the Sam F. Davis (G3) in his last two starts. Trainer Eoin Harty is just 3 percent in graded stakes (31 percent in the money). Groveland ran his best race speed rating two starts back, when he earned a 90 when second to Prairie Hawk. Despite the decline in speed ratings, I like this colt's chances on a track he clearly likes. Contender.


5.  Mikey Bananas (30-1)

Mikey Bananas hasn't faced much in his career and has been struggling against allowance/optional claiming level runners. Two starts ago, Constitution's son finished 3 3/4 lengths behind Freedom Road. Pablo Morales is the second-leading rider by earnings at Tampa Bay and hits the top three 53 percent of the time. This kind of wise guy could mess up someone's superfecta, hopefully not mine. Pass.

Mikey Bananas began his career on Tapeta, notching one win in three attempts. He ran up the track in his fourth start in a turf experiment, making him 4: 1-1-0 initially. His last three races have been right here at Tampa Bay, and while he has not won, he also hasn't been off the board, going 3: 0-1-2. His speed ratings improved in each start in Tampa Bay, but they're still well below the best figures in the field. Trainer Timothy Hamm is 12 percent in graded stakes (35 percent in the money), and while jockey Pablo Morales has been hot, he and Hamm together are only winning at a 12 percent clip (35 percent in the money). Pass.


6.  Tapit Trice (8-5)

Other than last out maiden winner Shesterkin, Tapit Trice beat a whole lotta nothing in his 3-year-old debut at Gulfstream. Todd Pletcher is no stranger to the Tampa Bay Derby, having captured the race from 2015 to 2017 with Carpe Diem, Destin, and Tapwrit. He also conditioned 2013 winner Verrazano. Tapit Trice and Verrazano won allowance races at Gulfstream in their previous starts. Hard to look past this one, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him as a  Belmont Stakes in June. Contender.

Bred by Gainesway and owned in partnership with Whisper Hill Farm, Tapit Trice is an exciting new prospect on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The son of Tapit could only manage third in his debut but has won both starts since then. He was a determined neck winner in the slop in a mile maiden race at Aqueduct in December and returned an eight-length winner at a mile at Gulfstream last month. He earned a 96 Brisnet speed rating at Aqueduct and a 99 last out, giving him both the highest last race speed figure and the best speed rating in the field. He also had a 107 late pace figure in his last race. Luis Saez, who was aboard at Gulfstream, retains the mount. He and trainer Todd Pletcher are winning at a 23 percent clip (52 percent in the money). Pletcher is also 25 percent with shippers (55 percent in the money) and 24 percent with last-out winners (57 percent in the money). Contender.


7.  Freedom Road (15-1)

Freedom Road gets the chance to stretch out. Although his dam excelled as a multiple stakes-winning sprinter, I'm willing to give Freedom Road another shot beyond six furlongs since he had trouble in the Sapling and Laurel Futurity. Freedom Road looked good, winning his last race. He made a five-wide move around the turn, and although he hesitated while passing Micky Bananas and Ocean of Storms, he got his head back in the game and powered past them late. Live longshot.


Freedom Road comes off an optional claiming victory at six furlongs here at Tampa Bay Downs. The son of Malibu Moon appears to be better suited to sprinting. He has made two previous attempts at a mile plus and finished fifth, beaten 10 lengths, and third, beaten 9 1/4 lengths. Sprinting, however, he is 3: 2-1-0. His best speed rating is a 91 that he earned when running second in a sprint at Delaware. Pass.


8.  Dreaming of Kona (30-1)

Dreaming of Kona came over on a rival and bumped repeatedly with Champion's Dream in the early stages of the Sam F. Davis. After a four-wide trip for much of the race, Dreaming of Kona was through by the eighth pole. Fast Anna's son will likely be part of the pace scenario if he breaks well, but his speed ratings are on the low side. Pass.

Dreaming of Kona looked good entering the Sam F. Davis off a runner-up effort in the Mucho Macho Man, in which he was placed first via disqualification. But he lost ground in the Tampa Bay Derby prep and eventually checked in seventh, 12 lengths behind the winner. He received just a 73 speed rating for that effort, well behind Mucho Macho Man "winner" Legacy Isle and third-place finisher Lord Miles, who had an excuse in the Holy Bull. Both those runnners declined in their subsequent starts, indicating that the race was not a key one. Trainer Aldana Spieth is 0 percent in graded stakes, including 0 percent in the money, but in fairness, that is just from one prior start, the Sam F. Davis. Toss.


9.  Shesterkin (9-2)

Shesterkin didn't beat much in his debut. The runner-up finished six lengths behind the winner, and only one other rival hit the board in their next outing. Then Violence's son was no match for stablemate Tapit Trice in their match-up. However, his speed ratings are better than most, and he gets a set of shiny new blinkers after wandering around in the stretch of his last race. Can this help Shesterkin turn the tables on his stablemate? Contender.

Shesterkin was a strong gate-to-wire winner in his debut, earning a 93-speed rating for the seven-furlong race. He followed that up with a distant second to stablemate Tapit Trice last out in a mile optional claimer but still earned an 89-speed rating. Trainer Todd Pletcher adds blinkers to the son of Violence's equipment, an angle he's 19 percent at (48 percent in the money). Pletcher is also 25 percent with shippers (55 percent in the money). Regular jockey Jose Ortiz will be at Gulfstream, so Edgard Zayas picks up the mount. Contender.


10.              Champions Dream (20-1)

Champions Dream had a legitimate excuse in the Sam Davis Stakes. He was bashed and repeatedly squeezed between Dreaming of Kona and the horse to his inside, hard enough to cause Champions Dream to stumble slightly. The Nashua (G3) winner is by Justify out of a graded stakes winner, and he's ben banged around in three of five starts. I'm tossing his Sam F. Davis performance because getting sucker-punched in the ribs, almost falling, and being asked to run is a tough deal. Exotics.

Champions Dream looked good in his seasonal debut and first start for Mark Casse when running second by a neck in the Pasco. The Justify colt threw an absolute clunker in the Sam F. Davis, however, steadily losing ground throughout the race and eventually being eased. This will be his third start off the layoff, an angle at which Casse wins at a 16 percent clip (46 percent in the money). He gets his sixth different jockey in as many starts. Champions Dream could conceivably improve here, but I'll let him beat me if he does. Pass.


11.              Zydeceaux (20-1)

The speedy Zydeceaux hit a wall in the stretch of the Sam F. Davis, his first start around two turns. By sprinter Cajun Breeze out of a daughter of Graeme Hall, Zydeceaux has a sprinter/miler pedigree. He'll have to go early from the outside post to get to his normal pacesetting position and has speed to his inside. Pass.  

Zydeceaux bravely tried to do it all on the front-end in the Sam F. Davis in his first attempt around two turns but couldn't hold off the cavalry in the stretch. He hung around to finish fifth, beaten just 3 1/4 lengths. He drew post 11 in that race, too, and so had to expend some valuable energy early to cut across the field. I'd like this son of Cajun Breeze a lot more if he had drawn closer to the rail, but unfortunately, that's just how the cookie crumbles. Trainer Ramon Minguet is 0 percent in graded stakes races (0 percent in the money), but that's just from one start. He's also 0 percent when sending out second time routers (67 percent in the money). Don't look for a win, but I think he can grab another piece of the pie here. Use underneath.


12.              Prairie Hawk (20-1)

Prairie Hawk was bumped around in the early stages of the Sam F. Davis, and never reached contention. Previously, Curlin's son bested Groveland by a neck, earning a career-best 92 speed rating with a 106 late-pace figure. If the Saffie Joseph, Jr. trainee can come close to that effort, he could earn a check. Exotics.

Prairie Hawk is another that took some action at the window in the Sam F. Davis but ended up finishing up the track, ninth beaten 19-lengths to be precise. The son of Curlin had two previous wins at 1 mile 40 yards, so I believe the bumping he endured at the break rather than distance was the issue. Since he drew the far outside rather than post two, he should stay out of trouble, but he's going to have to work out a good trip to get his preferred pacesetting/stalking trip. This is another I think deserves another shot. Use underneath.



Final Thoughts

Laurie: Since 2012, all but one Tampa Bay Derby winner finished in the top three of their previous race, and seven used the Sam F. Davis as a key prep.

Groveland has never been out of the money, and he finished second in the Sam F. Davis. He had trouble during the race, so take that into account. It's possible that he could have won with a better trip. Bill Mott doesn't ship for the fun of it, and Freedom Road was sneakily impressive in his last start.


Ashley: The second- through fourth-place finishers from the Sam F. Davis all drew to the inside, occupying posts two, three and four. Classic Car Wash and Groveland can both be expected to take up positions near the pace. True speedsters Dreaming of Kona, Shesterkin and Zydeceaux all drew mid-to-outside posts, so they'll have to be used early in order to get their preferred trips.

Todd Pletcher saddles both the favorite and the second choice, Tapit Trice and Shesterkin,respectively, both of whom will be making their graded stakes debuts after exiting the same race in a one-two finish. Shesterkin will want that lead, as I already stated, but Tapit Trice is more inclined to sit just off the pace.

Though that aforementioned inside trio all ran well in the Sam F. Davis, none of the speed ratings they earned touch those earned by Tapit Trice. I think we'll be hard-pressed to beat the Tapit colt at the windows, so I'm looking for some value underneath.





4. Groveland (6-1)

6. Tapit Trice (8-5)

6. Tapit Trice (8-5)

2. Classic Car Wash (8-1)

3. Classic Legacy (6-1)

4. Groveland (6-1)

7. Freedom Road (15-1)

11. Zydeceaux (20-1)


Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 ThoroFan Board Member

 Member – NTWAB

Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

Twitter: @IMTBreds
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