Looking for a Longshot in the Tampa Bay Derby

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Thus far along the road to the Kentucky Derby, we've seen some very special horses win Derby prep races, but many handicappers feel that we still haven't seen a true "wow" performance yet-the kind of performance where you can say with confidence that if a horse were to repeat the effort in the Kentucky Derby, he would almost certainly win.

Still, the biggest Derby prep races are yet to be run and it's entirely possible that we could see a "wow" performance this week in either the $400,000 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita or the $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) at Tampa Bay Downs. Both races have drawn very strong fields full of major Derby contenders, and don't forget, it was in the 2014 San Felipe Stakes that California Chrome launched himself into the Derby picture with a spectacular victory.

For today's post, we'll focus our attentions on the Tampa Bay Derby, and 8.5-furlong race that has drawn a field of ten horses. Let's take a look at the entries!

#HorseJockeyTrainerLast race
1Morning FireDaniel CentenoKeith Nations3rd Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
2RaftingEdgar PradoGraham Motion2nd Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
3OutworkJohn VelazquezTodd Pletcher1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
4Economic ModelIrad Ortiz, Jr.Chad Brown2nd Swale Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
5Star HillJulien LeparouxGeorge Arnold II1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
6RikerFlorent GerouxMark Casse6th Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)
7DestinJavier CastellanoTodd Pletcher1st Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
8Brody’s CauseCorey LanerieDale Romans3rd Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)
9Tale of S’avallJoe BravoBarclay Tagg5th Champagne Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
10Awesome BannerA. GallardoStanley Gold5th Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)

First off, I should say that I have a ton of respect for Brody's Cause, who won the Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) and ran third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) last year. He has a very strong late run, has already faced and beaten some of the best horses of his generation, and has turned in a long and impressive series of workouts in preparation for this race. When it comes to the Kentucky Derby, I think Brody's Cause will be a major contender for victory, so much that I have him ranked third on my Top 10 list of Derby contenders.

But as much as I like Brody's Cause, I think he can be beaten in the Tampa Bay Derby. One reason is that Brody's Cause is coming off a long layoff, and horses trained by Dale Romans often need to get a race under their belt before returning to top form. In 2012, Romans sent out the grade I winner Dullahan to make his three-year-old debut in the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park; Dullahan finished second before taking a big step forward to win the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) in his second start of the year.

It's also worth noting that in terms of Beyer speed figures, Brody's Cause isn't even the fastest horse in the race. Six of his nine rivals have earned higher figures, and while I don't think this is a major concern-as a deep closer, Brody's Cause can only earn high Beyer speed figures if he gets a good pace setup that results in a fast final time-but throw in the fact that he will be carrying 4 to 6 pounds more than his rivals while starting as the heavy favorite, and I think it's worth trying to beat him for the top spot, even though I won't be surprised at all if he wins.

The most logical alternative to Brody's Cause is probably Todd Pletcher's promising colt Destin, who took a big step forward to win the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs last time out. In that race, he settled in fourth through modest fractions, then took command turning for home and turned back a strong challenge from Rafting to win by 2 ¼ lengths. What made his performance particularly impressive was that he ran the fourth quarter-mile in about :24 1/5 and the final sixteenth in :06.27, excellent fractions that you don't see every day from Derby contenders. Also, for what it's worth, horses that prepped at Tampa Bay Downs have finished in the Tampa Bay Derby trifecta in 15 out of the last 16 years and have won the race seven times during that same timeframe, demonstrating that good form at Tampa is an important consideration when handicapping the Tampa Bay Derby.

But to me, the most intriguing horse in the Tampa Bay Derby is Destin's stablemate Outwork. After winning his debut at Keeneland last April by 2 ¼ lengths-in the process defeating the capable sprinter Finnegan-he went to the sidelines for the rest of the year, but returned to win a six-furlong allowance optional claiming race on February 13th at Tampa Bay Downs by 4 ¼ lengths. He's shown excellent early speed, but also the ability to rate just off the lead, which will be beneficial if Morning Fire or Riker show their usual interest in grabbing the early lead.

Of course, the Tampa Bay Derby will mark Outwork's first start beyond six furlongs, and that is a major question mark. However, there are several subtle reasons to like Outwork's chances. For one, he has a solid pedigree for stretching out in distance, being by the red-hot young sire Uncle Mo out of a mare by Empire Maker. Secondly, he has been training very well, breezing five furlongs in a bullet :59 4/5 on February 27th and the same distance in 1:00 1/5 on March 5th. Better still, from what I've read, Outwork's workouts have been even more impressive than their times imply. He will also be ridden by John Velazquez, who appears to have chosen Outwork over Destin, whom he rode to victory in the Sam F. Davis.

For all these reasons, I think Outwork has a very big chance to win the Tampa Bay Derby, and it's not every day that you see a Todd Pletcher-trained three-year-old at 12-1 on the morning line for a major Derby prep. Perhaps he won't handle the extra distance, but at that price, I think Outwork is worth a play. He is my selection to win.

I should also mention Awesome Banner, who won his first three starts at Gulfstream Park in unchallenged fashion before finishing fifth by 26 lengths in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II). That was his first start around two turns, but the fact that he was tiring after setting a slow pace for the first six furlongs suggests that something just didn't go right that day, and the fact that trainer Stanley Gold is bringing Awesome Banner back on just two weeks rest to run in the Tampa Bay Derby is a sign of confidence. I wouldn't be surprised if Awesome Banner runs a much-improved race this Saturday.

For the exotics, other logical contenders include Rafting, a solid runner-up to Destin in the Sam F. Davis Stakes; Economic Model, who returned from a long layoff to finish second in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream; Star Hill, who rallied to win a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Tampa by 7 3/4 lengths last time out; Riker, who set the pace in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) before tiring to finish sixth; and Tale of S'avall, who looked great breaking his maiden at Saratoga last summer before running fifth over a sloppy track in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I). If the track is dry on Saturday, I think Tale of S'avall could be a very live longshot.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Tampa Bay Derby?


To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website http://www.theturfboard.com/.

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