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This Saturday is the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby. The winner will receive 50 Kentucky Derby points to virtually assure themselves a spot in the starting gate. Matthew DeSantis shares his picks and analysis for the big race.
ANALYSIS

Saturday Free Horse Racing Picks: Tampa Bay Derby

Last month several of the horses entered today tried their hand at winning a Kentucky Derby Prep at Tampa Bay Downs in the form of the Sam F. Davis Stakes. None were successful, but four of the top five finishers came back for this race. They'll be joined by morning line favorite Tapit Trice (6-5), who will try to build off his impressive but limited resume. Tampa Bay Downs is a speed-favoring track, and it will be important throughout the day to watch how early front-end speed holds up in other races.

The winner of the Tampa Bay Derby will receive 50 Kentucky Derby points to assure themselves a spot in the starting gate. In contrast, the second through fifth-place finishers will receive 20, 15, 10, and 5 points, respectively.

Tampa Bay Derby

  • Post time: 5:15 PM ET
  • Distance: 1 1/16 miles
  • Field size: 12

By most metrics, Tapit Trice should win this race for fun. He towers over the rest of the field in terms of his speed figures. The 92 Beyer Speed Figure he earned in his last race is 10 points better than the next closest best effort by any other horse in the field. He is impeccably bred as a progeny of the great sire Tapit and was solid at the Keeneland Spring Sale in 2021 for a hefty price tag of $1.3 million. He has won two of his first three races and looked more impressive each time he's returned to the track. However, it's fair to ask questions.

Tampa Bay Downs is a speed-favoring track where you want to be close to the lead in dirt route races. In fact, according to Horse Racing Nation Track Trends, since February 1, horses that are four or more lengths off the lead after the first two furlongs are 0-36. That's a daunting statistic. While Tapit Trice has nice early speed, he doesn't blaze out of the gate, and it's entirely possible he gets shuffled back slightly behind pace setters. If so, he might fight the track bias as much as the other horses in the race. Additionally, Tapit Trice has never run around two turns though his pedigree suggests he will want all the ground you give him. All of that said, it's hard to imagine his jockey, Luis Saez, allowing him to get into any serious trouble during the trip.

If you're going to make a case for another horse other than Tapit Trice, I believe Groveland is a logical place to start. He finished second last time out in the Sam F. Davis and showed a lot of ability stepping up in class and running on gamely despite dealing with some trouble around the far turn. He's a horse that should be ideally positioned as well. He does not need the lead but should be sitting no more than two-three lengths off the pace. He will need to take a step forward, but absolutely has the ability to do so.

Speaking of pace, look for Tapit Trice's stablemate, Shesterkin, to be forwardly placed. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt has the best natural speed in the field and is getting blinkers added, which should help him focus. Last time out, he tried to rate behind another horse, but that seemed to mitigate his best attribute, which is his speed. If he gets out on the lead and is not too challenged, he has a shot at turning the tables on his stablemate.

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Another horse that should be on or near the lead is Zydeceaux, who will flash early speed from the outside #11 post. He'll want to carve out a trip similar to what he did in the Sam F. Davis, where he led the field into the final stretch. He's an intriguing horse because that last race was his first time around two turns. Based on his sprinter pedigree, you would have thought he would fade, but fought on valiantly for a solid fifth-place finish and was less than a head away from being third. He might be distance compromised, but on a track like Tampa Bay Downs, which will hold his early speed, he might have a shot at a big upset.

Two horses that are bound to get confused for each other are Classic Car Wash and Classic Legacy, who will be side-by-side in the starting gate. Classic Car Wash had trouble in the Sam F. Davis and was too far back early. Look for him to be more forwardly placed this time around. That said, he still showed a lot of talent, closing on the leaders late in that last race despite the track bias. Meanwhile, Classic Legacy picks up top jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who made the business decision to leave Shesterkin for this race. That's notable. Also notable is Classic Legacy's pedigree, as he's a half-sibling to Grade I winner Art Collector. However, there are some drawbacks for Classic Legacy as he's a dead closer who will try to make up ground late, and his only win has come in muddy conditions.

While I would love to give you a high price, it's hard to surpass the favorite. If Tapit Trice runs the race, we think he's capable of running. He will immediately become one of the top three or four Kentucky Derby contenders. He might also break a 16-year streak and be the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby after winning the Tampa Bay Derby since Street Sense did it in 2007.

Tampa Bay Derby Picks

  • Win: Tapit Trice (6-5)
  • Place: Groveland (6-1)
  • Show: Zydeceaux (20-1)

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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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