Carpe Diem, a Grade I winner who finished second in the 2014 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Ocean Knight headline a group of 40 3-year-old colts and geldings nominated to the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 7.
Carpe Diem is one of 13 sophomores from the barn of seven-time Eclipse Award Champion Trainer Todd Pletcher nominated to the Tampa Bay Derby.
The 35th edition of the annual mile-and-a-sixteenth showcase will be the centerpiece of the richest day of racing in Tampa Bay Downs history, with four stakes races offering combined purse money of $760,000 on the Festival Day program. Gates will open at 10:30 a.m. and there will be a special first-race post of noon.
Tampa Bay Downs will also provide beach towels with the track’s new logo to the first 7,500 fans through the gates with paid admission.
Two graded turf stakes for the distaff set are also scheduled for the first Saturday in March: the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth, and the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-an-eighth.
The fourth Festival Day stakes is the $60,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Challenger, which was won in 2012 by that year’s eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Fort Larned.
The Florida Oaks – which produced a pair of Kentucky Oaks winners when it was run on Tampa Bay Downs’ main dirt surface, Luv Me Luv Me Not (1992) and Secret Status (2000) – has attracted 35 nominees for its fifth turf edition.
The Hillsborough Stakes, won in 2012 by eventual Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner and Eclipse Award champion Zagora, has drawn 31 nominees, led by the outstanding Stephanie’s Kitten, owner Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s 6-year-old mare who won the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and whose $2.6-million in career earnings is built on the strength of three Grade I victories.
A total of 27 older horses are nominated to the Challenger on the main track.
The Tampa Bay Derby is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, a points system that will help to determine the field for the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 2 at Churchill Downs.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby is comprised of a series of 35 designated races at tracks around the world, with points awarded to the top four finishers in each race. The 20 horses with the most points earn a spot in the starting gate for the Run for the Roses.
The Tampa Bay Derby – which has produced a pair of Kentucky Derby champions in its 2007 winner, Street Sense, and 2010 third-place finisher, Super Saver – offers 50-20-10-5 points to its top four.
An Oldsmar showdown between Carpe Diem and Ocean Knight seems unlikely to occur, since both are owned by Stonestreet Stables LLC, the stable name of Barbara Banke. Stonestreet is a 100-percent owner of the Sam F. Davis winner and owns Carpe Diem in partnership with WinStar Farm, LLC, owned by Kenny Troutt.
After Carpe Diem breezed five furlongs in 59.42 seconds on Feb. 7 at Palm Beach Downs in Delray Beach, Pletcher announced he plans to use the Tampa Bay Derby for his 3-year-old debut. Carpe Diem won last fall’s Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland before his runner-up effort to Texas Red in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. Carpe Diem has since had two additional five-furlong workouts.
With Road to the Kentucky Derby points all-important, Stonestreet and Ocean Knight’s trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, are reported to be leaning toward the March 7 Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct for his next start rather than duel for points against another Stonestreet horse. The Gotham also offers 50-20-10-5 points to the top four.
All this pre-planning is subject to change, of course, and the constant maneuvering is part of the fun and excitement leading to Louisville.
Should Carpe Diem come to Oldsmar, he will be following a similar path blazed by Pletcher’s lone Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver. That WinStar Farm LLC-owned colt made his first start as a 3-year-old in the Tampa Bay Derby, finishing third. He followed that with a second-place finish in the Grade I Arkansas Derby before triumphing at Churchill Downs.
Pletcher has won the Tampa Bay Derby twice: with Limehouse in 2004 and Verrazano in 2013. And Carpe Diem certainly isn’t his only nominee capable of making major noise here in 13 days.
Other top horses from the Pletcher juggernaut nominated to the race include Let’s Go Stable and WinStar Farm, LLC’s Daredevil, winner of last fall’s Grade I Champagne at Belmont; Competitive Edge, unraced since winning the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga last summer; Far From Over, who captured the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct on Feb. 7; Itsaknockout, winner via disqualification of Saturday’s Grade II Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream; and Khozan, who toyed with his competition today in a one-mile allowance/optional claiming contest at Gulfstream.
Also nominated to the Tampa Bay Derby are multiple graded-stakes winner El Kabeir, trained by John Terranova, II; Imperia, another McLaughlin threat and a Grade III stakes winner on turf; the Edward Plesa, Jr.-trained Souper Colossal, whose 4-for-5 career mark includes three stakes victories; and the second and third-place finishers behind Ocean Knight in the Sam F. Davis, Divining Rod (trained by Arnaud Delacour) and My Johnny Be Good (Eoin Harty).
The list of Florida Oaks nominees contains several horses with solid stakes credentials.
Foremost among those are Pletcher’s sophomore Feathered, last seen chasing eventual Eclipse Award-winning Juvenile Filly Take Charge Brandi Home in both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Grade I Starlet at Los Alamitos; multiple graded-stakes placed Quality Rocks, trained by Hall of Fame conditioner William Mott; Grade III winner Ol’ Fashion Gal, trained by Mark Casse; and local favorite Include Betty, the Tom Proctor-trainee who could attempt a dirt-to-turf switch after her dramatic come-from-behind victory here in the Jan. 31 Suncoast Stakes.
The 2014 Florida Oaks winner, Testa Rossi, is one of three Chad Brown-trained nominees to the Hillsborough Stakes, along with the aforementioned Stephanie’s Kitten and Ball Dancing, a Grade II winner who finished second in last October’s Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Keeneland.
The French-bred 4-year-old filly Testa Rossi won the Grade III Endeavour Stakes here on Jan. 31 upon the disqualification of 6-year-old Hard Not to Like for interference in the stretch. That Christophe Clement-trained, Grade I winner, has also been nominated to the Hillsborough, as are Grade I winner Personal Diary, trained by Victoria H. Oliver; and a quartet of additional Grade II winners – the Oliver-conditioned Frivolous, Mott’s Filimbi, the Proctor-trained Diversy Harbor and Sparkling Review, from the barn of Ben Colebrook.
The top nominees for the Challenger include 2013 Grade I Blue Grass Stakes winner Java’s War, now trained by Roger Attfield; East Hall, a William Kaplan-trained 4-year-old gelding who won last year’s Grade II Indiana Derby; the Pletcher-trained Vinceremos, who won last year’s Sam F. Davis Stakes; and General a Rod, also trained by Pletcher, and who competed in all three Triple Crown races last year.
On today’s card, trainer Gerry Aschinger extended his winning streak to three with a pair of turf victories. He sent out the 4-year-old gelding High Side, bred and owned by Aschinger Bloodstock, LLC, to break his maiden in the sixth race under jockey Ademar Santos.
The Aschinger barn next captured the eighth race – the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week – with the 6-year-old horse Dramedy, who received a fence-skimming ride from Rosemary Homeister, Jr. The owner is the John James Revocable Trust.
Jockey Daniel Centeno swept today’s early daily double. He piloted 5-year-old gelding Totally Empressive to victory in the first race for breeder-owner Ripplewood Farm and trainer Tim Richardson. In the second race, Centeno won aboard 3-year-old colt J’s Buck Shot Bang for owner Karen A. Czerna and trainer Charles Harvatt.
Also on today’s card, jockey Marc Lerner of France scored his first victory in the United States, rallying the 4-year-old gelding Against the Win to a maiden victory on the turf in the 10th race. Against the Win is owned by his breeder, Alpha Delta Stables, and trained by Arnaud Delacour.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:30 p.m. The track 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.