Kentucky Derby Preview Series – The G2 Tampa Bay Derby – By Eric Solomon

The road to the Kentucky Derby makes its final stop in Oldsmar, Florida as a full field of twelve has been assembled for the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. Classic Causeway is the headliner after winning the local prep, the Sam F. Davis, last month. Last year’s winner of the Iroquois Stakes, Major General, makes his seasonal debut for Todd Pletcher in this spot. Like the three graded stakes last weekend, this race will also all but guarantee a spot in the Kentucky Derby Starting Gate for the winner. The weather forecast for the signature race of the meet at Tampa Bay Downs is not great, as there is the potential for some rain during the day. 

 

 

Tampa Bay Downs Saturday 2/12/22, Race 11: The Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby

85 Total Derby points (50/20/10/5)

1 – Grantham (20-1 ML): He makes his 4th career start at the 4th different racetrack. His only win came on the synthetic course at Turfway back in December. He shipped to Aqueduct for the Withers where he ran an even 4th. He sat off an aggressive pace that day, but never really had a forward move. Un Ojo winning the Rebel may flatter him a bit, however, I haven’t seen enough to make me believe he’ll be a contender at this level.

2 – Trademark (30-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): He finished last in the Sam F. Davis in his seasonal debut after running a pair of solid races to end his two year old campaign at Churchill. I guess it’s a positive sign that he’s getting another chance here, but also, there’s not a wealth of options for a three year old that has cleared the N1X condition, without running for a tag. I presume he’ll be better than he was last time, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where he’s good enough to beat these.

3 – Happy Boy Rocket (12-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): He beat a solid maiden special field on the Pegasus World Cup undercard in January at Gulfstream last out. He did it while drawing a tough post in a 1 Mile and 1/16 race at GP, and while conceding some ground early on. Mott has had some success here before, winning last year’s Sam F. Davis with Candy Man Rocket. This is a big step up, but he’s drawn well and I think this $490K son of Runhappy has a higher ceiling than some of the others in this race. Bill Mott doesn’t usually send a horse into graded stakes company off a maiden win unless he feels the horse is a good one. I think he’s the most enticing longshot in the group. 

4- Classic Causeway (8-5 ML, 14-1 Circa): He’s the obvious morning line favorite after a convincing win in the Sam F. Davis last month. I thought that was a good spot to try to beat him as I thought there was the potential for him to be engaged in too fast of an early pace battle in his first start off the layoff. However, he was ultra sharp from the gate and Irad used his inside draw to establish early position. They did go pretty quick on the front end and the horses that pushed the pace with him were all well-beaten. He had enough left in the tank to pull away late, winning by an easy 3 and ¾ lengths. On paper, the early pace does not seem like it will be as hot here. The only question mark will be if he can handle an off track, which is a possible scenario. He still looks very tough to beat in a race where he’ll likely go into the gate at even money or less. I’m not sure that’s the best value, but it feels like everything is set up for him here.

5 – Giant Game (10-1 ML, 30-1 Circa): The third place finisher in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile had a disastrous return to the races when he finished a distance 8th place in the Holy Bull month. Romans opted to defect from the Fountain of Youth last week, perhaps after drawing post 10 in that race. He’s worked well since that flop and this field isn’t as deep as the Holy Bull bunch. He does reunite with Joe Talamo, who rode him for the first three starts in his career. I think he’ll run better than he did last time, but the horses that came out of the Breeders’ Cup have been wildly disappointing to this point. Dale Romans’ best three year olds going into the Derby season have run terrible races so far. I’m siding against him here. 

6 – Golden Glider (12-1 ML, 225-1 Circa): I thought this son of Ghostzapper was a sleeper possibility in the Sam F. Davis last month, especially with all the front runners that were signed on in that race. He got the fast pace to close in to, but he was flat in the stretch, finishing 5th, never really threatening Classic Causeway. He cleared the N1X condition in his first try on traditional dirt, so he’s another horse that doesn’t have a ton of other options but to run in stakes company at the moment. He could have a forward move, but on paper, I don’t see him having the same tactical edge he had last time out. 

7 –Strike Hard (8-1 ML, 250-1 Circa): I didn’t think much of the Mucho Macho Man Stakes when Simplification won that race on New Year’s Day. However, after watching the Holy Bull and the Fountain of Youth, I do believe that Simplification is the real deal. This son of Flashback was second that day, and that effort earned him a spot in the starting gate in the Sam F. Davis last month. He had a wide draw and settled at the back of the field early. He made a five wide closing bid, but was never really in contention. My suspicion is that he’ll run his best races at the one turn mile as opposed to two turns, which is why I’ll be looking elsewhere. 

8 – Major General (9-2 ML, 50-1 Circa): The winner of the Grade 3 Iroquois back in September makes his long awaited three year old debut. His first two races were solid, and he’s been working well at Palm Beach Downs for Pletcher. My concern with him is similar to that of Giant Game. Many of the horses that were running well in big races back in September and October as two year olds have not fared well in these big three year old races so far. He’ll likely be the second choice when they go into the gate, so I don’t think the value will be there. I’ll be trying to beat him in this spot. 

9 – Shipsational (5-1 ML, 70-1 Circa): This gutsy New Yor bred was the runner up in the Sam F. Davis when making his three year old debut last month. He won three of his first four starts in New York when facing strictly New York breds. He certainly held his own while facing open company for the first time when making his first start at two turns and his first start in four months. He’s had some very sharp works over this course over the last two weeks, including a 47:3 bullet on 3/6. I think this son of Midshipman has some definite upside in this race and is on the short list of serious contenders here.

10- Belgrade: (20-1 ML, 150-1 Circa): He’s an undefeated son of Hard Spun who has a pair of wins in sprint races to start his career. He was all out to beat an average N1X allowance field here last month. I think he could be effective at two turns in his career, but this is a big step up in class. I’ll be looking elsewhere. 

11- Money Supply (10-1 ML, 250-1 Circa ): Chad Brown unveiled this son of Practical Joke in a maiden special weight race on the undercard of the Sam F. Davis stakes here last month. He was far back at first call, but had plenty of run, winning the six furlong race by two lengths. He put up a big 91 Beyer figure that day, which is the highest figure that anyone in this race has recorded. Stretching out to two turns in a Grade 2 stakes race is a big ask in his second career start. I also wonder about distance limitations as a son of Practical Joke, who was more effective at one turn. Post 11 is no bargain either. I’ll play against him here, but it wouldn’t shock me if he ran another big race. NOTE: David Grening tweeted earlier on Friday that Chad Brown is planning on scratching him out of this race in favor of a stakes sprint next month (The Lafayette at Keeneland or the Bay Shore at Aqueduct). 

12- Spin Wheel (20-1 ML, 250-1 Circa): He made his seasonal debut as a big longshot in the Holy Bull Stakes last month over at Gulfstream. He ran 6th that day, never threatening to hit the board. He did run a career top Beyer figure in that race, and he could have another forward move here. He’s another one that was done no favors by the post position draw though. He could be a sneaky horse to slip into the trifecta here, but that would likely be his ceiling at this point. 

 

The verdict: 4-3-9

This race runs through Classic Causeway, who was ultra-impressive last month when winning his first start of his three year old campaign. Irad Ortiz gave him a fantastic ride that day, catching a flier from the gate and limiting the options of the other speed horses. He was pressured through some quick fractions, but still continued to find on the front end, pulling away in the late stages. He comes back at the same distance against a field where there are less horses that are going to want to be on the lead. He’ll be a short price, but he is likely going to be tough to beat.

Of the longer priced horses in this race, Happy Boy Rocket has my attention. I liked his maiden breaking score at Gulfstream when making his first start at two turns. He really didn’t have an ideal trip, but he battled hard and got the job done while facing a solid field. He moves up in class, but he is well drawn, and has the potential to be overlooked in the wagering. If his odds go over his 12-1 morning line, I’d definitely put some money on him to win, while also backing up with him on the multi-race wagers. 

Shipsational feels like a blue collar type horse that has some upside here. I liked the effort he gave last month, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take another step forward. He looks to be training very well on this course and he’s a proven commodity on an off track. 

One other race of note on this card that could have some impact on the Derby Trail is the maiden special weight contest that goes off as Race 5. Commandperformance makes his first start as a three year old for Todd Pletcher in that race. He draws post 8 in a field that appears to be hopelessly overmatched on paper. This son of Union Rags was second in his debut and then ran a strong second in the Grade 1 Champagne behind Jack Christopher. He came up short, finishing 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to end his two year old season. He’s yet to win a race, and it would be hugely disappointing if he didn’t win here. If he does so impressively, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him show up in a 100 point Derby Prep race. 

Each week, we’ll have an update on horses and races from the previous week that may produce starters for the 148th Kentucky Derby on May 7th, 2022. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

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