Wild Shot Has a Strong Shot in the Tampa Bay Derby

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

After a major rearranging of the Kentucky Derby picture last weekend, with heavy favorites Irish War Cry and El Areeb falling to defeat, racing fans will be holding their breath in anticipation for the two Derby prep races coming up this Saturday. While much of the attention will be on the $400,000 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita, the more competitive race from a handicapping perspective appears to be the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) at Tampa Bay Downs, a race that has drawn a field of ten horses. Let's start handicapping!

Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II)

With the unbeaten Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) winner McCraken skipping the Tampa Bay Derby, this race appears very wide-open and competitive on paper. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won three of the last four renewals of this race, and he appears to hold a strong hand again with Tapwrit and Sonic Mule.

At first glance, Tapwrit looks like the horse to beat. After breaking his maiden and winning the Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park, the son of Tapit stepped up in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and ran a big race to finish second, surging strongly in the homestretch to finish just 1 ½ lengths behind McCraken while earning a 93 Beyer speed figure, the highest of any horse in the Tampa Bay Derby field.

But while Tapwrit did have to wait briefly for racing room in the homestretch, he received a fantastic trip overall, saving ground every step of the way and picking up the pieces late. Perhaps he can work out a similar trip in the Tampa Bay Derby, but I don't think he's an unbeatable favorite.

I'm also leaning against State of Honor, who finished third in the Sam F. Davis Stakes after setting the pace. On a day when speed seemed to be carrying very well at Tampa Bay Downs, State of Honor was able to secure an uncontested lead while racing on the rail and covering even less ground than Tapwrit, but he still weakened slightly in the final furlong to be beaten 2 ½ lengths by McCraken and a length by Tapwrit.

With this in mind, I believe the horse to play coming out of the Sam F. Davis is Wild Shot. Coming off of a layoff, Wild Shot raced very wide on both turns and made a strong mid-race move to gain 2 ½ lengths through a quick third quarter-mile timed in :23.75. That move put Wild Shot in contention for the lead, and he actually seized a narrow advantage with a furlong remaining, but his wide trip cost him late in the race and he faded to finish fourth, beaten 3 ½ lengths by McCraken.

However, according to data from Trakus, Wild Shot ran 5 ¾ lengths farther than McCraken, six lengths farther than Tapwrit, and 6 ¾ lengths farther than State of Honor-in other words, with a ground-saving trip, Wild Shot might have been an easy winner. After drawing post nine in the Tampa Bay Derby, he might wind up getting another wide trip, but the benefit of having a prep race under his belt should have him sharper and ready to take a step forward. Don't forget that as a two-year-old, he ran a couple of big races at 8.5 furlongs, finishing third in the Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) after setting a fast pace and then running second in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II), just 1 ¼ lengths behind McCraken.

Another colt that has caught my eye is Beasley, who finished second behind the well-regarded Battalion Runner in an 8.5-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream last month. That race marked Beasley's two-turn debut, and after a bit of an odd trip (setting a slow pace and getting passed by Battalion Runner on the far turn while drifting out several paths from the rail), Beasley battled back to reach even terms with Battalion Runner before backing up slightly in the final furlong to finish second, beaten 1 ¼ lengths.

However, watching the head-on replay, it can be seen that Battalion Runner drifted toward the rail in the homestretch, putting Beasley in very tight quarters and maybe causing him to brush the rail. Under the circumstances, I'm not sure Beasley's defeat was as much the result of tiring as it was the result of backing out of an awkward position. Had Beasley been outside of Battalion Runner, the results might have been different.

I have the feeling that Beasley is an improving colt that will get a lot out of that effort, and he showed two starts back that he doesn't need to have the early lead to be effective-he can rate several lengths off the pace and still finish strongly. The only concern is that Beasley was entered to run in the Fountain of Youth last Saturday, but scratched and instead posted a blazing :46 4/5 half-mile workout. Was Beasley ready to roll that day and ran his race in the morning? Or is the sharp workout simply a sign that he is thriving and ready for a big effort in the Tampa Bay Derby?

I would also like to briefly mention The Money Monster, who is 2-for-2 after winning the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on January 21st. While his speed figures (both Beyers and BRIS) are on the slow side, he's bred to improve around two turns and could be a threat from off the pace for trainer Bill Mott, who recently took over The Money Monster's training. Joel Rosario has the mount, and from post position two, The Money Monster could be able to save ground and rally into a contentious pace. At 15-1 on the morning line, he might be one to consider as a live longshot.

But live longshots aside, who is the best play on top in the Tampa Bay Derby? That could come down to the post-time odds. If Tapwrit holds at his morning line price of 3-1, that could be considered a decent price on a talented colt that seems poised to receive another excellent trip. But if he drops much lower than that, then the odds on Wild Shot (5-1 on the morning line) should be appealing enough to offset the risk that he could receive another wide trip.

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


The Unlocking Winners Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge is back for a third consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the official contest page. 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 www.theturfboard.com.

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