Questions Reign In Tampa Bay Derby

Verrazano with jockey John Velazquez up wins debut in dazzling fashion at Gulfstream Park. Hallandale Beach Florida. 01-01-2013

            A lot of questions will be answered after the 2013 edition of the Tampa Bay Derby is run on Saturday. With eight horses (Park City is likely to be scratched in favor of the Rebel Stakes) ready to take the post, every horse in the field has something to prove, including the current individual Kentucky Derby favorite, Verrazano.


            The Todd Pletcher trainee could not have looked better in two easy wins in South Florida, but he still has much to prove as he takes on much better competition. While the pedigree suggests that distance should not be an issue, Verrazano has yet to race around two turns. Pletcher is not concerned with the distance, and likely should not be, but it will still be new territory for the young More Than Ready colt.


An even bigger concern has to be going from the speed favoring Gulfstream surface to the deep and tiring Tampa Bay Downs surface. Throughout the Tampa Bay Downs meet, several horses have shipped from Gulfstream, gone off as favorites, and disappointed, likely due to the surface change. How Verrazano adapts to the new surface will likely be the main factor in determining his success on Saturday.


Beyond the well-deserved favorite, there are many other questions to be answered throughout the field. Three additional horses will be trying two turns for the first time and two horses are coming off layoffs of over three months.


Purple Egg is the one horse that falls into both categories. While the Lion Heart gelding has been much the best in all three starts, he has battled injuries throughout the first part of 2013. High percentage trainer, Jane Cibelli, is sure to have him ready, but returning from a long layoff and trying two turns for the first time will be a stiff challenge against this competition.


Honorable Dillon is an intriguing entry out of the Eddie Kenneally barn, but another that will be routing for the first time. The Hutcheson winner has been training great since his early February victory and Kenneally is very confident in his young colt. The pedigree suggests two turns should not be an issue as sire, Tapit, won the Wood Memorial at 1 1/8th, but whether his son has the same endurance remains to be answered.

The two horses in the field that have fewer questions surrounding them are Dynamic Sky and Falling Sky. Both horses have experience over the track at this distance as the 1-2 finishers in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis. In the February 2nd race, Falling Sky was able to take the field wire to wire, but will once again be leaving from an outside post, a concern considering the quick first turn at Tampa Bay and the speed to his inside in the form of Offlee Fast.


Dynamic Sky finished a close 2nd in the Sam F. Davis, while once again racing erratically in the stretch- something that has become a common occurrence for the Mark Casse trained colt. Casse makes a positive rider switch to Joel Rosario, but Dynamic Sky will have to do some growing up to beat the Tampa Bay Derby field on Saturday.


While there are several questions to be answered in Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby, the answers that come out of it could go a long way to determining who will wear the roses the first Saturday of May.


Written by Jon Pauss


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