Head to Head: Handicapping the Tampa Bay Derby

Head to Head: Handicapping the Tampa Bay Derby
Photo: SV Photography

Ever since the Fountain of Youth (G2) cut back to 1 1/6 miles, Kentucky Derby looking for a softer spot to earn qualifying points or a good first season comeback race have had Tampa Bay Downs as an option.

This year’s Tampa Bay Derby (G2) attracted 11 competitors. Will the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) hero Well Defined continue his win streak, or will track record holder Win Win Win stretch out successfully?

It's fair to say Coast to Coast’s
Ashley Tamulonis and I don’t see eye to eye this week in our handicapping.

Before a closer look the field, note that speed rules at Tampa Bay Downs. Pace setters and pressers have captured 66% of races at this meet, and front runners have wired the field about a dozen times. Mid-pack runners are capable too, winning at 20%. The late running stalkers are at a disadvantage.

Local horses do very well, as they’ve won or placed in the last 10 editions of the Tampa Bay Derby, often at long odds.

Now, we go head to head:



Admire — Dale Romans has brought this one back from New York, where he last ran fifth in the Withers (G3). His only career win came in the slop, which was also the race in which he was closest to the lead early. The rail post could help him get that preferred position, but is he good enough to win? This field seems a tad bit lighter than the Withers, so perhaps.


Admire — In the Withers Stakes, Admire was in the thick of things early, decided he wanted no part and backed out, placing a distant fifth.  He skipped the Fountain of Youth for a softer spot and reunites with Robby Albarado. Breezes are decent, and the pair luck out with a rail post. On the downside, his late pace sped figures aren’t admirable, and Romans has an 0-for-16 losing streak going in the last six months. Pass.

Sir Winston — Trained by Mark Casse, Sir Winston also exits the Withers. The effort there was OK, but I believe he prefers Woodbine’s all-weather track over traditional dirt. With this one having never been on the board in a dirt race, I have to pass.

Sir Winston — Sir Winston lingered at the back of the pack in the Withers  and passed a couple of tired horses at the end. He has the pedigree to run all day but isn’t fast enough to win this, and dirt form not as good as his Polytrack. Pass.


Lord Dragon — Imperial Racing sends out recent maiden winner Lord Dragon. It took moving to Tampa and dropping in class, but this Oxbow colt finally got it done. I normally am huge on the horse for course angle, but this is asking a lot from a colt who had to drop down just to get a win. Pass.

Lord Dragon — Despite trying his best to stay behind the front runners by ducking in and hanging, Lord Dragon got up by a narrow head to win his fifth start. The farther he goes, the better his speed figures -- not surprising since he’s bred to run two turns. On the downside, it’s a huge class jump from $28,000 maiden races to this. Longshot potential for lower exotics.

Dream Maker Having the winter off seems to have done this Casse trainee some good. Last year he was green and ran into some bad racing luck, but he sure started off 2019 with a bang. He won his seasonal debut by 8 ½ lengths and could continue to improve here. I certainly like this one better than his stablemate despite poor performances in graded company last year.

Dream Maker — Well, somebody loves running at Fairgrounds.  This well-bred son of Tapit looked like a dream winning an optional claimer in his 3-year-old debut, and his breeze pattern indicates a forward move. On the downside, Mark Casse is 0-for-4 with shippers to Tampa this year. Exotics only for me.


Well Defined — Stonehedge’s Well Defined went straight to the lead in the Sam F. Davis (G3) and never looked back. He owns the best dirt speed in the field and drew a better post than in the Sam F. Davis. For me, this is the colt to beat.


Well Defined — I liked how Well Defined won on the front end, ears pricked most of the race, showed he was in total command. He’s never put together back-to-back wins, but he’s the lone speed and must be respected. Trainer Kathleen O'Connell won the 2011 edition of this race. Contender.

Outshine — It’s hard to ignore a Todd Pletcher horse, but Pletcher is asking Outshine to stretch out and move up in class. Granted Pletcher has had success with this trandition before, so it would not be out of the question for Outshine to do just that to the rest of the field.


Outshine — The Toddster has saddled four of the last six Tampa Bay Derby winners. He returns this year with another expensive, lightly raced colt. The son of Malibu Moon looked good beating a so-so group of optional claimers in his 3-year-old debut, racing wide and winning by two lengths under a hand ride. Have to use him in the bets, because, as a friend likes to say, it’s the Silver Fox.

Win Win Win — Pasco hero Win Win Win will also be stretching out. He was a dominant winner at that seven-furlong distance, but that does not necessarily mean that he can carry it longer. He gets a jockey upgrade to Irad Ortiz, Jr., which will likely help his chances. Exotics.


Win Win Win — He wow wow wowed in the Pasco Stakes, overcoming a slow start then setting a new track record of 1:20.89 for seven furlongs. He’s had enough time between races and has been training, well, winningly. Still, I wonder, is he a brilliant sprinter or will he handle two turns? Breeding says he should, and he isn’t speed crazy early. Contender


The Right Path — By Quality Road, The Right Path finished behind Outshine in his last start. His most recent work was sharp, but his speed figures don’t really fit with the best in this field. Could be a legitimate choice underneath, but I do not see this one getting his picture taken.

The Right Path — Racing against Outshine, he was on the right path indeed and looked like a contender, but got squeezed back at a crucial point in the stretch, had to check and was placed second by stewards. Jorge Duarte gave the son of Quality Road a pre-race bullet work. Contender.

Dunph   There isn’t much to recommend here. Dunph has been non-competitive in graded company and couldn’t even muster up a win at Remington Park in the Springboard Mile. Toss. 

Dunph — The Mike Maker trainee had to take up in the stretch of the Risen Star, but Jose Ortiz was already scrubbing the hair off Dunph’s neck and they were going up and down in the stretch. At this point Dunph is a cut below. Pass.

Tacitus — Out of the brilliant Close Hatches, Tacitus has the potential to be a serious competitor if he inherits even a measure of his dam’s talent. Trainer Bill Mott is adding Lasix for the first time for this colt, which could move him up off his maiden-breaking win in his last start. However, this will be his first race in more than three months, so he may need this race as a sharpener for later goals.

Tacitus — Oh look, another last out maiden winner from the Mott barn. A large, lumbering gray who reminds me more of Unbrideld’s Song than he does Tapit, Tacitus was last seen being dusted by Hidden Scroll in his second to last work. He was all out to beat a so-so group of maidens at Aqueduct and he has an upright running style. He gets first time Lasix, but he’s taking on a salty group in his first start off the layoff. If he lives up to his breeding, he’ll be one to watch. Belmont Stakes, anyone? Pass this time around.

Zenden — Hailing from the barn of Victor Barboza, Jr., Zenden was the runner-up in the Swale (G3) in his last outing. Like so many in this field, that means he is being asked to route for the first time. His Buffalo Man Stakes win earned him a high speed figure, but that was for a six-furlong race. He has never been worse than second, so maybe an exotics choice.

Zenden — This son of Fed Biz sat just off a 21.76 first quarter in the Swale and stuck around to place second, only 1 1/4 lengths behind Call Paul. He has enough speed to get an advantageous position, either challenging Well Defined or sitting off his rival’s flank. There’s mostly sprinter/miler speed in his pedigree, and Zenden will need a perfect trip, but I don’t anticipate a brutal early pace. Trainer Jorge Duarte knows how to spot his horses. Contender.



Final Thoughts

Overall, I am not impressed with this field. None of the top Derby prospects landed here despite Santa Anita closing indefinitely, and many are stretching out for the first time. Since 2000, only two colts have managed the Sam F. Davis/Tampa Bay Derby double, the most recent being Destin in 2006. That trend makes me want to discard Well Defined as the winner, but to me, he’s the best in the field.

Laurie: I agree with Ashley. We’ve seen better fields. There are five in here that I like to hit the board, but don’t like any enough to call them a definitive winner. Get out the dartboard.  




#5 Well Defined

#7 Win Win Win

#4 Dream Maker

#5 Well Defined

#10 Tacitus

#8 The Right Path

#6 Outshine

#3 Lord Dragon


Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 Pedigree Analyst – Bruno With The Works 

 ThoroFan Advisory 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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