Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby – The Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby – By Eric Solomon

Another weekend and another large field for a Derby Points race that practically guarantees entry into the 2023 Kentucky Derby. 12 horses are entered for this year’s running of the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. Todd Pletcher, who has five wins in this race in his career, sends out the heavy favorite, Tapit Trice (#6) and the second choice, Shesterkin (#9). Although Litigate, the winner of the Sam F. Davis, also trained by Pletcher, is sitting this race out; a host of horses from that race are back to try to beat the big horse and gain entry into the Derby.

This race was first run back 1981, and while it doesn’t have the deep history as many of the other Derby preps do, Street Sense put this race on the map in 2007. Carl Nafzger opted to bring the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner here for his seasonal debut, where he clashed with Any Given Saturday in one of the more memorable runnings of this race. He would go on to win the 2007 Kentucky Derby, being the only Derby winner to emerge from this race. Tapwrit won this race in 2017 for Todd Pletcher and went on to win the Belmont Stakes that year. Last year’s winner, Classic Causeway, who will make his first start of the year in Race 8 today, didn’t go on to have much success on dirt after winning this race, but he would go on to win the Grade 1 Belmont Derby last summer. Post time for today’s running of this race is 5:15 (ET).

Tampa Bay Downs, Saturday 3/11/23, Race 11: The Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby

100 Total Derby points (50/20/15/10/5)

1 – Lord Miles (12-1 ML, 200-1 Circa): I know the trouble line mentions an awkward start in the Holy Bull for this Curlin colt, however, I can’t use that as a valid excuse for how poorly he ran in that race. I thought we’d see a much better version of him in what was a fairly slow race. He draws the rail again and Irad Ortiz is off of him in favor of Classic Legacy. Maybe he can build off that race, but he’s a tough sell for me in this race. 


2 – Classic Car Wash (8-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): He was bet down from his 20-1 morning line figure to 12-1 in the Sam F. Davis last month. I thought he was an interesting runner in that race after two strong wins, even if those efforts were against soft fields. Despite the solid pace, he and Classic Legacy were the only back markers that were gaining notable ground in that race. There should be another favorable pace scenario with Shesterkin and Zydeceaux drawn outside. I don’t love him at 8-1 in this race, but I do think that number will float up because I do think Tapit Trice will be hammered at the windows. At the end of the day, I think the bottom of the vertical exotics will be his ceiling here. 


3 – Classic Legacy (6-1 ML, 200-1 Circa): The half to Art Collector finished 4th here in his seasonal debut, which was also his first start at two turns. Junior Alvarado stays in Hallandale to ride Frank’s Rockette as the 4-5 favorite in the Hurricane Bertie Stakes for Mott, so he turns to Irad Ortiz to ride for the first time. I think the presence of Ortiz will keep his price lower than it should be. He certainly could move forward in this race, but I don’t foresee getting enough value to make it worth wagering on him. 


4 – Groveland (6-1 ML, 300-1 ML): I thought the local pro, Daniel Centeno, gave him a beautiful ride in the Sam F. Davis last month, saving ground into the first turn while attending an aggressive pace. He’s already the most accomplished runner of the three horses that his dam, Lucknow, has foaled. Centeno has two wins in this race (Ring Weekend in 2014 and Musket Man in 2009), and he still rides this course better than just about anyone. I think he gets another favorable trip and finishes in the money in this spot. 


5 – Mikey Bananas (30-1 ML): The longest shot on the board is coming off a distant second place finish in allowance company here. He broke his maiden on synthetic at Presque Isle going 4 and ½ furlongs and has not won a race since. This feels like a stretch for him. 


6 – Tapit Trice (8-5 ML, 12-1 Circa): While I’d be thrilled to get 8-5 on this son on Tapit in this race, I think he’ll be closer to 3-5 when they go into the gate. He’s a 1.3 million dollar son Tapit out of the multiple stakes winning mare, Danzatrice. Her first foal, General Strike, is 0-12, so it’s clear that this one is built differently. He ran on well in the late stages of his debut to get into third. He faced a very nice horse in Slip Mahoney in his second career start, and he nailed him on the wire back in December. His most recent race was dominating victory at Gulfstream, beating his stablemate, Shesterkin, by eight lengths. All three of those races were run at one turn miles, and this will be his first try at two turns. Luis Saez gets the return call for Todd Pletcher, who is looking to book another runner to the Derby after scoring with Forte last weekend. 


7 – Freedom Road (15-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): He debuted at Monmouth Park and was a 27-1 upset winner in a maiden special weight race on the Haskell undercard. That race was good enough for Greg Sacco to start him in the Sapling, where he was no match for Pletcher’s Lost Ark. He was well beaten by Congruent, who was an impressive winner of the John Battaglia Stakes last weekend, in the Laurel Futurity in October. Since then, he ran twice at six furlongs and looked much better. I think I prefer him at one turn. 


8 – Dreaming of Kona (30-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): He attended the hot pace in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and was the second one to fold, finishing a non-threatening seventh. That was his first two turn test, which I can’t consider to be successful. He’s another one that is better suited to one turn racing and feels like nothing more than a pace factor in this spot. 


9 – Shesterkin (9-2 ML, 225-1 Circa): He was an impressive winner on debut at Gulfstream back in December when going seven furlongs. He stretched out to the mile in his most recent start, but was no match for Tapit Trice, who was eight lengths better. Irad Ortiz rode him that day, so it’s interesting to see Edgard Zayas in the saddle today. Ortiz is booked on Forte for Pletcher, so perhaps he’s giving Zayas a test run on this colt if he does prove he’s Derby-worthy. However, Ortiz riding Classic Legacy over him concerns me a bit. He’s another runner that feels like he’s not going to offer any real value. I hate the 9-2 morning line price on him, and wouldn’t consider using him unless I got 10-1 or better. 


10 – Champions Dream (20-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): His effort in the Sam F. Davis was almost too bad to be believed. He was close to an aggressive pace and faded badly, before being eased up late. His three previous starts on fast tracks were much more effective races. I don’t think he’s one that wants to be battling for the early lead, so Antonio Gallardo is going to be tasked with finding a better spot for him in the early going of that race. He is the only graded stakes winner in the field, and he won that race without Lasix. I like that he’s back in a race like this after that poor effort, and I think he could be one of better longshot chances in this race.


11 – Zydeceaux (20-1 ML): He ran a game race in the Sam F. Davis, gunning it for the lead from his outside post. He led while setting some aggressive fractions and faded to be 5th late. Samuel Marin probably will have to resort to the same tactics in this race, which makes him a tough sell for me with some better speed horses signed on here. 


12 – Prairie Hawk (20-1 ML, 300-1 Circa): He was another horse that took some money at the windows in the Sam F. Davis, but he didn’t really fire that day. Samy Camacho had him in a cozy spot, but he simply didn’t fire. His lone win came in allowance company where he had a very easy lead with a pokey early pace. He was racing with Lasix for that effort as well. I don’t think the post draw did him any favors. 



The Verdict: 6-4-10

I don’t really want to eat chalk in a large field, but I think Tapit Trice (#6) is just better than his eleven rivals. He was eight lengths better than the second choice in the morning line when they met five weeks ago at Gulfstream. I think he was more impressive than the Holy Bull winner, Rocket Can, who ran later on that same afternoon. He’s bred to be a good runner and he’s in very capable hands. I know that asking him to go two turns for the first time will make him a touch vulnerable, but he’s bred to handle the distance.


To me, I think Classic Legacy (#3) and Shesterkin (#9) will be battling for the second choice in the wagering here, and there’s value in trying to play against both of them. When you take Tapit Trice out of the equation, the rest of this field is evenly matched. Groveland (#4) worked out a beautiful trip from a similar post last out and has never run a bad race. I think he makes a lot of sense underneath in this race. 


Champions Dream (#10) is the longer priced runner that I’ll try to connect with, in hopes that his miserable effort last out was nothing more than an off day. He’s well bred, sired by Justify out of a graded stakes winning mare. He draws another outside post, which is less than ideal, but I don’t think he’ll be as aggressively ridden from the gate today, which may be a plus.


We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. 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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    • Hey Al…. Thanks for reading. I’ll be the first to admit that picking a 3-5 isn’t very brave, however, I’m also not going out of my way to play this race. Despite, the big field, this doesn’t strike me as a good betting race. I really like the last two races from Tapit Trice and conversely, I think the Sam Davis, which the majority of the runners are coming out of, was a below average race. I think he’ll get the right setup as well. As a result, there’s not another horse I’m interested in on top. Personally, I’d rather read someone’s honest opinion as opposed to someone who is being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. If you’re betting this race and are on someone else tomorrow, let me know. Maybe there’s something I’m not seeing.

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