A field of 12 horses will go to post Saturday in the running of the Tampa Bay Derby in hopes of securing Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
The 1-1/16-mile race is the 11th on the Tampa Bay Downs card and is set for a 2:25 p.m. PDT post. The race offers a 50-20-10-5 points structure.
While this race doesn’t set up as talented as the other two prep races Saturday, a win here pretty much locks in a spot in the Derby!
Following is a look at the top runners, as well as my longshot play.
Candy Man Rocket (Bill Mott/Junior Alvarado/2-1) is your morning line favorite. The horse had a disappointing debut back in last November finishing 7th in a straight maiden race. He came back with a pair of wins, breaking maiden by nine lengths in January, followed by a win in the Sam F Davis over the TB track in early February.
In the last start he stalked the pace, went three-wide turning for home, then held on to win by a length. In the two wins he has shown the desire to sit right off the pace, then move when they turn for home.
Hidden Stash (Victoria Oliver/Rafael Bejarano/4-1) is your second choice. Fiver career starts have produced a pair of wins and a pair of thirds. In his last start he was a closing third in the Davis, starting from well back and closing hard, but he was unable to run down Candy Man Rocket.
Given the Davis was his first start since late November, there is every reason to expect the horse to be sharper here.
If he wants a shot at the win here, he has got to sit closer to the pace, something he was able to do in his last win, a score in November in an optional claimer at Churchill Downs.
Helium (Mark Casse/Jose Ferrer/6-1) is an interesting choice to be the third favorite as he has been off since a stakes-score in mid-October at Woodbine. Even though the horse is 2-for-2 career, with consistent, but average works recently, I am having a hard time getting behind this runner.
Promise Keeper (Todd Pletcher/Luis Saez/8-1) would not be among Pletcher’s A-list of horses at this point, this could be one worth watching.
His first start came in early January and was an even and unimpressive start at Gulfstream. He came right back less than a month later and scored a front-running win at a mile in the slop, also at Gulfstream.
Not only did he set the pace but pulled off in the lane to win by five.
Now Pletcher brings him back off a pair of good works and while on paper this looks like the value play, I would be happy to get him at 4-1. It’s a step up in class, but I like him here.
Super Strong (Saffie Joseph/Antonio Gallardo/8-1) won his only start, debuting with a maiden score in December at a track in Puerto Rico. He changed barns after the win and Joseph went back and forth for the start in the Gotham or here.
In the debut he did rally from 9-lengths back to win by over two in the slop. The works have been decent for this spot and we really have no idea what to expect here.
Unbridled Honor (Todd Pletcher/Julien Leparoux/20-1) is my long shot play here.
After two average starts in New York, Pletcher shipped the horse south and was rewarded with a straight maiden score over the Tampa track in early February.
He had a bullet work right before the race and has come back with two more to set up this start. He sat off the pace, saving ground, then got through on the rail and passed them all for the win.
The bigger the field, the tougher it can be to get a rail trip in the lane so it will be interesting to see the strategy here. Sit too far back and he may need to go 6-wide heading for home.
By Dennis Miller