Pletcher Looks for Another Win at Tampa Bay Derby
Todd Pletcher, the winningest trainer in Tampa Bay Derby history, brings Tapit Trice to the gate for the only Kentucky Derby Prep race on tap for this weekend.
The Tampa Bay Derby gets the Kentucky Derby trail all to itself this weekend, which means Todd Pletcher keeps the Florida Derby prospect spotlight all on himself.
Last week at Gulfstream Park, we saw Pletcher’s star sophomore, Forte, run away with the Fountain of Youth by 4 ½ lengths over Rocket Can. The Champion 2-Year-Old of 2022, Forte easily ran to his 1-2 odds as he explained why Caesars trimmed his Derby future odds from 7-1 to 7-2.
This week, up the Florida Gulf Coast at Tampa Bay Downs, Pletcher’s deep barn sends out Tapit Trice as the favorite in that track’s signature race of the season. The 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby was downgraded to a Grade 3 this year—largely the product of weak fields the last several years—but it offers 50-20-15-10-5 Derby points to its top five finishers, enough to get the winner a starting berth in the May 6 Kentucky Derby.
This is Tapit Trice’s first outing on the Derby trail, but if recent form holds, expect his future odds to shrink accordingly. Right now, he’s Caesars’ co-third favorite with Instant Coffee at 15-1. These relatively low odds reflect Tapit Trice’s last outing, an eight-length dismantling of a Gulfstream Park allowance optional claiming race last month.
In that race, which came with a 92 Beyer Speed Figure, Tapit Trice blew away his stablemate, Shesterkin, another Pletcher product who is likely to run Saturday.
That followed his maiden-breaking neck victory over Slip Mahoney in a December maiden special weight at Aqueduct. Tapit Trice has two wins and a third in his three outings.
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Pletcher Holds Huge Advantage
This, naturally, puts Pletcher in a familiar driver’s seat. He’s already the winningest trainer in Tampa Bay Derby history, winning five of these between 2004 (Limehouse) and 2017 (Tapwrit). And Forte’s dominance has overshadowed his stablemate’s stalking ability and tactical speed. In both victories, Tapit Trice stalked the pace, then seized matters by the stretch.
“He worked dynamite and is doing great,” Pletcher told the Daily Racing Form, referring to a 49.20-second half-mile workout last Saturday. “He ought to appreciate the added distance and the two turns.”
Pletcher is going for a sweep of the Tampa Bay Downs Derby preps, having captured the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis last month with Litigate. That colt won’t return for the Tampa Bay Derby, going to the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds March 25. But the 2-3-4-5 finishers at the Sam F. Davis are expected to test Tapit Trice.
That starts with Groveland, who finished 1 ¼ lengths back after a roller-coaster trip. Jockey Daniel Centeno followed his stalking playbook to the letter. But just as Centeno made his move at the three-eighths pole, pace-setter Zydeceaux flipped the script by blocking his path. Centeno slammed on the brakes, then found an opening and turned on the jets again. The furious rally at 21-1 taught trainer Eoin Harty that the son of Street Sense—the last Tampa Bay Derby winner to wear roses the first Saturday in May—has the intangibles to contend anywhere.
“If you had told me at the top of the stretch he’d be fourth, I would have been happy,” Harty told Tampa Bay Downs’ Mike Henry. “If you had told me he would hit the board, I’d have been ecstatic. And if you told me he’d be second, I’d be delighted. I went through a whole range of emotions in the last three-eighths of a mile.”
Groveland Moving Up Ranks
The rally took Groveland past Classic Car Wash, who overcame hitting the gate at the start to finish third. He finished 1 ½ lengths back of Groveland and just ahead of Classic Legacy.
As for Zydeceaux, expect him to set the early pace, much like he did in the Sam F. Davis and much like he did in winning the Listed Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in January. While he wired the field in the Pasco, Zydeceaux weakened in the final furlong of the Sam F. Davis. He finished fifth, 3 ¼ lengths behind Litigate.
After last week’s Derby prep trifecta of the Fountain of Youth, the San Felipe at Santa Anita Park (won by Practical Move by 2 ½ lengths over Geaux Rocket Ride) and the Gotham at Aqueduct (where Raise Cain prevailed by 7 ½ lengths at 23-1), the Derby trail takes a week off before returning March 25 with four races.
Leading that list is the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, along with the UAE Derby in Dubai and a Japanese prep, the Fukuryu. All but the Fukuryu offer 100-40-30-20-10 Derby points, enough to get the winner and possibly the runner-up dates in the Churchill Downs starting gate.
The victories for Practical Move and Raise Cain carved into their Derby future odds. Practical Move went from 65-1 to 15-1 at Caesars. Raise Cain plunged from 175-1 to 50-1. But this weekend is the fourth of five Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) pools. The window opens Friday at noon ET and closes Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET.
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