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On Saturday, March 12, Tampa Bay Downs will feature four graded stakes races including the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby, which is a Kentucky Derby Prep race. Get my analysis and selections for each stakes race.

Saturday Tampa Bay Horse Racing Picks: Kentucky Derby Prep Tampa Bay Derby and More

Before we dive into analysis, it is important to keep one eye on Saturday's weather forecast that features a 100% chance of thunderstorms in Tampa, which could turn the dirt surface sloppy and might take the turf races off the grass. Obviously, if the two turf stakes races are run on dirt, it will change the complexion of those races, but we will make our picks with the assumption they stay on the grass.

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Race 7

Distance: 1 1/8 miles

Name: The Hillsborough Stakes – Grade II

Age: 4-years-old and up (F&M)

Surface: Turf

If the race stays on grass, then you can expect a little bit of speed up front in this race with Lady Speightspeare (5-2), Gladys (20-1), and Nantucket Red (15-1) to set the early pace. Lady Speightspeare is the classiest of the bunch but has not won since leaving the friendly confines of Woodbine. If she’s able to sit behind the other two speed horses as she did at the Grade II Bessarabian then I think she has a chance to get to the winner’s circle, but I think she’s maxed out over a mile. On Friday afternoon, trainer Chad Brown announced that he is likely to scratch morning line favorite Bleeker Street (2-1).  She was the clear class of the field, but due to the yielding turf, she will not go.  Brown has a second horse entered, Rocky Sky (9-2) and while there is no word on whether she will scratch too, I’m somewhat skeptical of her even if she runs as she is coming off a substantial layoff after a dull performance at Saratoga in August.  It feels like she needs a race before we can take her seriously as a win contender.

The two horses that benefit the most are Lady Speightspeare and Runaway Rumour (6-1).  Lady Speightspeare now has one less quality shooter trying to track her down in the stretch, while Runaway Rumour should get a nice trip sitting mid-pack.  Yes, Runaway Rumour is coming back from a four-month layoff, but her class this past summer at Saratoga and Belmont is unparalleled with the rest of the field.

Perhaps most impressively, this horse just keeps getting faster every time out as she’s posted ascending speed figures in all her races including a 90 Beyers in her win of the Grade III Endeavour Stakes last time out. I’m skeptical of Brown’s other horse, Rocky Sky (9-2), who is coming off a substantial layoff after a dull performance at Saratoga in August. It feels like she needs a race before we can take her seriously as a win contender.

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For some value, I really like Take Charge Ro (12-1) as the race should set up nicely for her with plenty of speed up front and she can sit mid-pack before making a move late. She’s got a nice turn of foot and while this is a step up in class, she’s got a great jockey on her in Luis Saez and a sharp trainer in Brian Lynch. If Lady Speightspeare scratches, which happens with some regularity, include Jezebel’s Kitten (12-1) in your exotics as she’s been a consistent shooter who hasn’t finished worse than fourth the last eight races and has posted 80+ Beyer Speed Figures in six of those eight starts.

Race 7 Picks

  • Win: Runaway Rumour
  • Place: Take Charge Ro
  • Show: Lady Speightspeare

Race 8

  • Distance: 1 1/16 miles
  • Name: Michelob Ultra Challenger Stakes – Grade III
  • Age: 4-years-old and up
  • Surface: Dirt

We have some big names coming off the shelf in the Challenger Stakes. Greatest Honour (3-1) who was last seen finishing third in the 2021 Florida Derby is coming off nearly a one-year layoff and hitting the track again for trainer Shug McGaughey. Additionally, Kentucky Derby runner Dynamic One (5-2) is also coming back for the first time since the Travers in August. Both these horses have a lot of class and while the layoffs are concerning, this is a soft landing spot as their biggest threat is Shirl’s Speight (6-1) who drew the far outside post and is primarily a turf horse.

The two favorites would both prefer to have some speed to run into and they should get their way given Wolfie’s Dynaghost (10-1), Tune In (12-1), and Scalding (12-1) will be forwardly placed. While Wolfie’s Dynaghost can boast a victory over Dynamic One in his maiden, the two have gone in vastly different directions since. Wolfie’s Dynaghost may be coming off consecutive victories, but those were on turf and synthetic. The last two times we saw him on dirt he finished a combined 26+ lengths off the lead. The same is true with Shirl’s Speight who is also coming off consecutive wins but whose only dirt performance was a 5th-place finish by 11 lengths at a $62,000 optional claimer.

All of this is to say that the two favorites are likely the top two despite the long layoff, but I’d lean toward Dynamic One because Greatest Honour’s year-long layoff puts me off a bit. If you’re looking for some value in deep exotics, then consider either War Stopper (8-1) or Cody’s Wish (8-1). War Stopper is a Pletcher horse with Manny Franco aboard who is running second back from a layoff and hit the board in this race last year. That race was his high-water mark, but in a field with a lot of question marks he checks a few boxes in terms of distance and speed. On the other hand, Cody’s Wish fits the profile of horse I like to play, which is a lightly raced horse with strong speed figures that is stepping up in class. He’s stretching out a little, which is a concern, and is coming in from a layoff, but trainer Bill Mott has a good win rate (24%) with this length of layoff so there is reason to believe he can run big in this spot.

Race 8 Picks

  • Win: Dynamic One
  • Place: Greatest Honour
  • Show: Cody’s Wish

Race 9 – Florida Oaks

  • Distance: 1 1/16 miles
  • Name: Florida Oaks – Grade III
  • Age: 3-years-old (F)
  • Surface: Turf

Unlike the previous race, the Florida Oaks will not feature a lot of speed up front, which may negate the closing ability of several horses in the field. Alittleloveandluck (7-2) will likely take the lead by default but does not feel like a strong candidate to wire the field. She prefers to sit behind the pace and when she’s been forced to the lead, she typically fades significantly down the stretch.

Therefore, I’m looking to Sweet Dutchess (10-1) as a horse that really perked up when they put her on turf two races ago. Her Beyer Speed Figures are ascending, and I believe she has yet to run her best race. She has a reliable trainer and jockey who win at a decent clip at Tampa and has been stretching out the last two races so distance should not be an issue. Ambitieuse (3-1) is the morning line favorite and has certainly earned that distinction after coming up just short at the Grade III Sweetest Chant Stakes at Gulfstream Park last month. Her recent works on turf are fantastic but the lack of pace might hinder her from making up ground turning for home. Spicer (9-2) is one of two Chad Brown horses in the field and is coming back from a four-month layoff. She needs to improve her speed figures to have a chance, but she should be near the lead, so like Sweet Duchess, the trip should set up well for her.

I’m less enthusiastic about Brown’s other horse, Dolce Zel (5-1), who is making her North American debut. She broke her maiden last time out in France but she’s really stretching out and coming back from a significant layoff. Finally, if the pace was hotter, I would love Shug McGaughey’s On Alert (8-1) but she’s going to have quite the task closing in on a slow pace. This feels like the most wide open of the stakes races on the card, so I’m going to take a swing with some value.

Race 9 Picks

  • Win: Sweet Dutchess
  • Place: Spicer
  • Show: Ambitieuse

Race 11 – Kentucky Derby Prep Race (50 points to winner)

  • Distance: 1 1/16 miles
  • Name: Tampa Bay Derby – Grade II
  • Age: 3-years-old
  • Surface: Dirt

In the headlining race, we see a rematch of the top two finishers from last month’s Sam F. Davis Stakes with winner Classic Causeway (8-5) taking on runner-up Shipsational (5-1). Classic Causeways’s performance in the Sam F. Davis was impressive given the pressure he faced on the lead and his ability to pull away down the stretch. His recent workouts have been sharp and now he’s got a race under his belt after a four-month layoff. Additionally, Classic Causeway’s ability to break to the lead should prove key given potentially sloppy track conditions that tends to favor frontrunners. Shipsational is still worth a look. The Sam F. Davis was his first race in five months, and he broke slow and got shuffled back. Much as Simplification did at the Holy Bull Stakes, Shipsational still salvaged a strong second-place performance that day while running a different type of race than he was accustomed. If he’s able to parlay that experience the way that Simplification did at last week’s Fountain of Youth, then perhaps we’ll see an even better version of him on Saturday.

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After re-watching the Sam F. Davis Stake, Strike Hard (8-1) may have had the worst trip after being shuffled all the way to the back and then going five-wide around the far turn before making a run to finish fourth. I would expect a better trip now that he has Luis Saez aboard and if you draw a line through his only race outside of Florida, he tends to be consistent at hitting the board. I’m not bullish on Major General (9-2) who is coming off a six-month layoff after winning the Grade III Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs. He’s only run twice and while the field of the Iroquois was decent, it has not produced many winners while the rest of the field has been getting faster against better competition. I would also be weary of Giant Game (10-1) given how Dale Roman horses have been fairing lately.

Race 11 Picks

  • Win: Classic Causeway
  • Place: Shipsational
  • Show: Strike Hard

Article Author

Horse Racing

Matthew DeSantis is a horse racing handicapper with a fondness for lightly raced horses with improving speed figures. You can find him at the track playing surface changes and second off the layoff.


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