By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Limehouse. Verrazano. Carpe
Diem. Destin. Tapwrit. What do these five colts have in common? A lot,
actually. They were all conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. They
all competed in the Kentucky Derby (G1). And they all won the Tampa Bay Derby
(G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.
No trainer has won the Tampa
Bay Derby more times than Pletcher, whose five winners in 2004, 2013, 2015,
2016, and 2017 included a future Belmont S. (G1) winner (Tapwrit), a Belmont
runner-up (Destin), and a couple of two-time Grade 1 winners (Carpe Diem and
Verrazano). The point being, Pletcher saddles good horses in the Tampa Bay
Derby and frequently comes away with first prize.
All this is to preface the
possibility of Pletcher's #6 Tapit Trice
emerging as a star in the 2023 Tampa Bay Derby, which is taking place this
Saturday over 1 1/16 miles. Sold for $1.3 million as a yearling, Tapit Trice
has shown a lot of potential and ranks among the early favorites for the
A stoutly bred son of
three-time leading sire Tapit out of the stakes-winning Dunkirk mare
Danzatrice, Tapit Trice debuted in a one-mile maiden special weight at Aqueduct
and gained a lot of ground down the homestretch to finish third, beaten 2 1/2
lengths. He hasn't tasted defeat since then.
Tapit Trice picked up his
first victory when sticking to one mile at Aqueduct for a Dec. 17 maiden
special weight. Tapit Trice didn't get off to the sharpest start, but rallied
from seventh place in an eight-horse field to beat next-out maiden winner Slip
Mahoney by a neck. That performance was flattered when Slip Mahoney finished
second in the Gotham S. (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby last weekend.
Tapit Trice subsequently
shipped to Gulfstream Park and made his three-year-old debut in a $75,000
allowance optional claimer racing one mile. Facing only five rivals, Tapit
Trice showed a bit more early speed than usual, sticking within two lengths of
the early pace. Then he rallied to the front at the quarter pole and kicked
clear through the final furlong to dominate by eight lengths.
Any way you slice it, this
was an impressive performance. Tapit Trice earned strong speed figures of 92
(Beyer) and 99 (Brisnet), as well as an eye-catching 107 Brisnet Late Pace
Tapit Trice probably isn't
unbeatable in the Tampa Bay Derby. He's facing 11 rivals, so his off-the-pace
running style puts him at risk of a traffic-filled trip. But Tapit Trice's
improving form and strong speed figures stamp him as the horse to beat,
especially when you add in the Pletcher factor.
Who are the other key
contenders in the Tampa Bay Derby? Certainly we have to respect the second
Pletcher trainee, #9 Shesterkin. A
2 1/4-length debut winner sprinting seven furlongs at Gulfstream Park,
Shesterskin subsequently finished second behind Tapit Trice in the latter's
runaway allowance score. Shesterkin is adding blinkers for his stakes debut and
can't be counted out of the mix for a top-three finish.
runner-up in Tampa's Sam F. Davis (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby last
month, is another logical choice. But #12
Prairie Hawk is arguably just as appealing. True, he never fired in the Sam
F. Davis, finishing ninth by a wide margin. But two starts back, Prairie Hawk
led all the way to beat Groveland by one length in a $75,000 allowance optional
claimer racing one mile and 40 yards at Tampa.
Prairie Hawk benefited from
setting a slow pace that day, but he's capable of handling quicker fractions.
Three starts back, he tracked a runaway pacesetter from second place before
kicking on to win a one-mile and 40-yard maiden special weight at Tampa by 2
Prairie Hawk is a son of
two-time Horse of the Year and elite sire Curlin and a half-brother to 2018
Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip, so there's plenty of class in his pedigree. He
also has hot human connections in his corner; trainer Saffie Joseph has gone
4-for-9 (44%) at Tampa since the start of the year, while jockey Samy Camacho
boasts a 61-for-240 (25%) record during the same timeframe. If you're willing
to draw a line through Prairie Hawk's no-show in the Sam F. Davis, there's a
lot to like about his chances.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Tampa Bay Derby?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contest page—there's a new challenge every week! (Please note: older contest entries can be found here.)
The Unlocking Winners Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge is back! Check out the special contest page to play along.
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.