By Gene Kershner
By Gene Kershner
The Derby trail shifts to Tampa, Fla., this weekend for one of two key Derby prep races, the $350,000 Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. Run over two turns at 1 1/16 miles, nine sophomores will attempt to garner precious graded stakes earnings, the winner taking home $210,000 and most likely positioning themselves for a spot in Derby 137.
The other key prep race will be run at Santa Anita Park on Saturday afternoon, the $250,000 Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes.
The last Tampa Bay Derby winner to wear the roses was in 2007, when Street Sense nosed out Any Given Saturday before going on to win the Derby with Calvin Borel's rail skimming ride. The race was upgraded this year from a Grade 3 to a Grade 2 by the American Graded Stakes Committee in December.
One entrant that won't be showing up for the Tampa Derby is the current Kentucky Derby favorite, Uncle Mo. His connections decided to skip the two-turn Tampa Bay Derby to run in a newly designed one-turn mile race at Gulfstream Park this weekend, the $100,000 Timely Writer. Instead, trainer Todd Pletcher will send out the morning line even money favorite Brethren, winner of the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa last month.
Let's take a look at the entrants for Saturday's big race with analysis (trainer, jockey and morning line odds in parentheses):
1 - Striding Ahead (Mott, Solis, 10-1) - The Empire Maker colt comes out of an impressive maiden win at Tampa winning by over six lengths. Alex Solis crosses the state to ride him for trainer Bill Mott. First step into graded company in his third career race may prove to be difficult. Has distance pedigree and solid workout pattern. Considering.
2 - Economic Summit (Violette, NR, 8-1) - On the bench since the Grade 2 Nashua in November, the Malibu Moon colt has been working well at Palm Meadows, but the thought here is he'll need a race before taking on this crew. As of this writing, a rider had not been named for Economic Summit.
3 - Beamer (Nafzger, Goncalves, 10-1) - Finished fourth in the Davis five and a half lengths behind Brethren where he got off to a slow start. Has some late speed, so if the race falls apart late he could be there to pick up the pieces. Useful underneath in the exotics.
4 - Uncle Mo (Pletcher, Velazquez, 3-5) - He will most likely scratch out in favor of the Timely Writer at Gulfstream as mentioned above.
5 - Too Experience (Passley, Centeno, 8-1) - Never dismiss Daniel Centeno at Tampa Bay. The meeting's leading rider is winning at a 23 percent clip and is in the money 61 percent of the time. Finished second behind Brethren in the Davis and has two solid workouts under his belt since then. He could prove to be another useful colt underneath in the exotics.
6 - Crimson Knight (Bennett, Allen, 30-1) - Jumping from the claiming ranks to graded company is quite the leap, so trainer Gerald Bennett must know something we don't. His sire Leroidesanimaux (BRZ) was a brilliant miler and his dam's sire Numerous was a graded stakes winner at shorter distances. The gelding's last start was a victory at the distance. We'll pass on this one on Saturday.
7 - Free Entry (Brown, A Garcia, 7-2) - Intriguing Tale of the Cat colt who will be stretching out to the mile and 1/16 distance for the first times. He shows terrific late speed and enters the race third off the layoff shipping in for trainer Chad Brown. The very talented Alan Garcia has the reins on this impressive sophomore. He is definitely the main threat to unseating the favorite.
8 - Moonhanger (Alexander, Marquez, 20-1) - The turf to dirt angle for trainer Alexander has been a profitable won, winning 11 of 33 tries. Not sure he has the speed to hang with the top horses in here but has early speed and solid wet figures should the track come up muddy or sloppy. We'll be tossing Moonhanger unless the track happens to come up wet.
9 - Watch Me Go (O'Connell, L Garcia, 12-1) - Finished third in the Davis when he had nothing left in the tank to take on Brethren in the stretch. Expected his peak effort in his last race, and he came up short. His sire was unraced and his dam's sire was a Canadian Hall of Famer. Would be shocking if he swept this group.
10 - Brethren (Pletcher, Dominguez, 1-1) - Similar to the Davis, he drew the outside post. It didn't faze him in the Davis, so don't expect it to hinder him on Saturday. He stalked the pace nicely until taking over at the quarter pole. Ramon ships in from the New York circuit to ride him in this huge race. With $110,000 of graded earnings to date, the Post Time Derby Dozen No. 5 horse needs a decent showing to solidify his place in the gate in Louisville. Looking for the half brother to last year's Derby winner Super Saver to gut this one out.
Post Time Selections:
1 - #10 Brethren
2 - #7 Free Entry
3 - #3 Beamer
Exacta box 7/10
Trifecta part wheel 7,10/7,10/1,3,5
Good luck and let's go cash some tickets!
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.