Leading North American trainer Todd Pletcher has nominated 15 3-year-olds to the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, a traditional Triple Crown stepping stone and the centerpiece of Festival Day 33 on March 9 at Tampa Bay Downs.
The Pletcher nominees – including Let’s Go Stable’s speedy colt Verrazano, 2-for-2 at Gulfstream since Jan. 1 by a combined 24 lengths – are among 47 sophomore colts and geldings made eligible for the 33rd edition of the mile-and-a-sixteenth Tampa Bay Derby, which has produced two of the past six Kentucky Derby winners.
One of those was Pletcher’s Super Saver, who finished third here in 2010 en route to capturing the Run for the Roses.
The Tampa Bay Derby is the centerpiece of a lucrative March 9 stakes card that includes the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40-yards on the main dirt track.
The Hillsborough, won last year by subsequent 2012 Eclipse Award Champion Turf Female, Zagora, has attracted 42 nominations, including five apiece from the barns of Pletcher and H. Graham Motion and four from Chad C. Brown, the trainer of since-retired Zagora.
The Suncoast Stakes drew 21 nominations, including three from Hall of Fame trainer William Mott and two apiece from Pletcher and William Kaplan.
The Tampa Bay Derby is one of 17 stakes comprising the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series,” part of the new points system being employed by Churchill Downs to determine the 20 horses that qualify for the 139th running of the $2-million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 4. The Tampa Bay Derby awards 50 points to the winner, 20 to second, 10 to third and 5 to fourth.
Earlier this week, Pletcher confirmed during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association media conference call that barring any mishaps, he has chosen the Tampa Bay Derby to be Verrazano’s first stakes start and first attempt going two turns. Verrazano’s Feb. 2 victory by more than 16 lengths has engendered much excitement surrounding the Kentucky-bred son of More Than Ready-Enchanted Rock, by Giant’s Causeway.
Among Pletcher’s other Tampa Bay Derby nominees are 2012 Eclipse Award 2-Year-Old Champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Shanghai Bobby, second in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 26 in his 3-year-old debut; Capo Bastone, the third-place finisher in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita; multiple-Grade II winner Overanalyze; Grade III winner Revolutionary; and the promising Grade II-placed Forty Tales.
Pletcher also nominated Grade I winner Violence, who was injured while finishing second to Orb in Saturday’s Grade II Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream.
Also nominated to the Tampa Bay Derby are the first six finishers from the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 2 at Tampa Bay Downs. The Davis winner, trainer John Terranova II’s Pennsylvania-bred colt Falling Sky, was scratched from the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth.
Davis runner-up Dynamic Sky is one of four Mark Casse-trained youngsters nominated. The Grade I-placed son of Sky Mesa won the $100,000 Pasco Stakes here Jan. 12. Casse won last year’s Tampa Bay Derby with Prospective, who also won the Pasco and finished second in the Davis before his Derby score.
Other Davis competitors nominated are third-place finisher My Name Is Michael, trained by Mott; Eddie Plesa, Jr.-trained fourth-place finisher Speak Logistics, who was third in the Fountain of Youth; fifth-place runner Midnite Poppa, who broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 26, trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Nick Zito; and sixth-place finisher Divine Ambition, trained by Darrin Miller.
Additional noteworthy Tampa Bay Derby nominees include last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up He’s Had Enough, trained by Doug O’Neill, who won last year’s Kentucky Derby with I’ll Have Another; Eddie Kenneally-trained Honorable Dillon, winner of the Grade II Hutcheson at Gulfstream on Feb. 2; and undefeated (3-for-3) Purple Egg, the Jane Cibelli-trained gelding who won the $75,000 Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 1 in his most recent start and who breezed a bullet five furlongs Sunday in 1:00.
Pletcher has one of the leading Hillsborough nominees in Stud TNT’s Brazilian-bred 5-year-old mare Old Tune, an impressive winner here of the Grade III Endeavour Stakes on the turf on Feb. 2. It was the first U.S. start for Old Tune, who has now won five races in a row, including three Group I events in Brazil.
Several of the runners who chased Old Tune in the Endeavour are nominated to the
Hillsborough, including the runner-up Appealing Cat, trained by Motion; third-place finisher Last Full Measure, from the barn of Philip J. Oliver; and fourth-place finisher Hooh Why, trained by Anthony Granitz.
Other top nominees include multiple-Grade II winner Centre Court, from the barn of George “Rusty” Arnold, II; Brushed by a Star, another multiple-Grade II winner, trained by Kenneally; the 2011 Queen’s Plate winner Inglorious, trained by Josie Carroll; and Grade II winner Mystical Star, trained by Christophe Clement.
Brown’s quartet of Hillsborough nominees include 5-year-old Ireland-bred mare Dealbata and 4-year-old Ireland-bred filly Forces of Darkness, both owned by Zagora’s owner during her Eclipse season, Martin S. Schwartz.
Dealbata finished ninth as the Endeavour favorite but was beaten only five lengths. Forces of Darkness was a Group 3 winner and Group I-placed in France last summer.
For the Suncoast, Mott’s nominees include up-and-coming Flashy Gray, who has won her last two starts – at Churchill Downs and Gulfstream – by a combined 15 lengths.
John Servis, who trained 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones, has nominated Martha’s Moon, whose three career victories include stakes triumphs at Calder in Miami and Delaware Park. She finished third here in the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes on Jan. 12.
Other outstanding Suncoast nominees include Pletcher’s Fusaichiswonderful, who began her career with five consecutive victories at Camarero in Puerto Rico before finishing fourth in the Grade II Forward Gal at Gulfstream; William Downing-trained Cindys Casino, second in the Gasparilla; and stakes winner Crumb from the barn of Larry Bates.
Jockey Scott Spieth rode two winners on Sunday’s card. Spieth won the fourth race on the turf on 8-year-old gelding Truly Amazing for owner Kitty R. Cheeks and trainer Joseph Cheeks and the 10th on the turf on 5-year-old horse Folk Singer for owners Kathleen O’Connell and James O’Connor and trainer O’Connell.
Through 52 days of the meet, Angel Serpa is the leading jockey with 52 victories, two more than four-time track champion Daniel Centeno. Fernando De La Cruz is third with 40.
Six-time Tampa Bay Downs training champion Jamie Ness leads the trainer standings with 31 victories, nine ahead of runner-up Jorge Navarro. Jane Cibelli and Kathleen O’Connell are tied for third with 17.
Wednesday’s 10-race Thoroughbred card begins at 12:30 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.
“Hearts Reaching Out.” There is still time to enter the “Hearts Reaching Out” Golf Tournament four-person scramble as an individual or a team. The event, conducted by the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, Tampa Bay Downs Division, is Monday, March 4 at 11 a.m. at Countryside Country Club in Clearwater.
The event will be held prior to the RTCA-Tampa Bay Downs Division’s Charity Auction and Dinner at 5:30 p.m. under the tent in the track’s Picnic Area. The tournament awards banquet will be held at 7 p.m. in conjunction with the auction.
Cost is $100 for the tournament, dinner and auction, and $20 for the dinner and auction. Tickets are available at the Chaplain’s Office. For details or to reserve a spot, call (813) 494-1870 or (813) 298-1576.
Items to be auctioned include a pair of Belmont Stakes tickets, racing and sports memorabilia, signed items, photographs and paintings.
Proceeds benefit the RTCA, a certified 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization which provides spiritual, emotional, physical, social and educational services to racetrack workers. The RTCA, Tampa Bay Downs Division, also receives financial support from Tampa Bay Downs, the Horsemen’s Benevolence and Protective Association and individual donors. Information is available at the web site www.rtcatbd.org
Car Giveaway. Poker players, circle Friday, March 8 on your calendars. That is when The Silks Poker Room at Tampa Bay Downs will be giving away a 2013 Toyota Camry SE to one lucky player, as well as $599 cash prizes to nine other players.
To win a drawing ticket for March 8, poker players must get an aces-full or higher hand in a game between now and March 7 using at least one card in their hand. To be eligible to win the car or a cash prize, ticket-holders must be playing or on the waiting list to play on March 8. Ten tickets will be drawn, nine for $599 and one for the car.