Road to the Kentucky Derby: Tampa Bay Derby
The Kentucky Derby points race stops at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday for the final time this year for the track’s signature race, the Tampa Bay Derby.
Continuing the recent trend of large Derby prep fields, 12 are entered in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 event. The Tampa Bay Derby is a 100-point race with 50 awarded to the winner, enough to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. The remaining points breakdown in 20-15-10-5 for second through fifth place.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, whose Forte won the Fountain of Youth last week to establish himself as the early Kentucky Derby favorite and the current Derby points leader, has another solid contender in Tapit Trace, the morning-line favorite for the Tampa Bay Derby. Pletcher has won this race five times, but not since 2017. This year’s $400,000 purse is the richest in the race’s 43-year history.
The Road to the Derby takes a week off next week and then ramps up with a trio of 200-point races — the maximum awarded — on March 25. Derby points races continue through April 15, with the top 20 qualifiers earning automatic entry into the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
Tampa Bay Derby
Date: Saturday, March 11, 2023
Track: Tampa Bay Downs, Oldsmar, Florida
Distance: 1 1/16 mile
Tampa Bay Derby Analysis
Six of the horses that competed in the Sam F. Davis Stakes a month ago meet again at the same track, including the second through fifth-place finishers. None are likely to be among the top betting choices.
Instead, trainer Todd Pletcher’s Tapit Trice, a $1.3 million purchase who romped to an 8-length allowance victory at Gulfstream Park last month, appears a short-price favorite. Pletcher also has the second betting choice in lightly-raced Shesterkin, who also ships in from Gulfstream Park.
All in the field are in need of Derby points — none are among the top 35 on the Derby points leaderboard. Champions Dream, who finished last in the Sam F. Davis, is the only horse in the field with a graded stakes victory, winning the Nashua at Aqueduct last November as a 2-year-old.
Last year’s Tampa Bay Derby was won by betting favorite Classic Causeway, who went on to finish 11th in the Kentucky Derby. In the previous four years, the Tampa Bay Derby winner was sent off at generous odds of 15-1, 49-1, 8-1 and 19-1.
The last (and only) horse to win the Tampa Bay Derby and Kentucky Derby is Street Sense in 2007.
More Horse Racing Coverage: Gambling.com horse racing picks
Tampa Bay Derby Selections
Bettors will need to look beyond the favorite if searching for value in this race. If willing to do so, likely pacesetter Zydeceaux is worth considering at long odds. Zydeceaux’s fifth-place finish in the Davis at 43-1 was better than the final result. He set all the fractions on a surface that was not favoring speed that day and showed some grit in the stretch before weakening late, beaten only three lengths. He won the Pasco Stakes in his previous start over this track. The 11 post doesn’t help, and this is far as Zydeceaux wants to run, but if able to establish an uncontested lead, he’s a threat at a big price.
On paper, Tapit Trice looks difficult to beat. His 92 Beyer speed figure last time out is easily the best in the field and a repeat of that allowance victory is good enough to win this. A $1.3 million purchase, expectations are high and he is bred to appreciate longer distances. But from a betting standpoint, the question is whether you’re willing to accept even money or so on a horse that is stepping into stakes company for the first time, and unlike last time out, will race without Lasix.
Classic Legacy was fourth in the Davis and has run a faster speed figure than the time before in each of his last three races. Trainer Bill Mott’s horses generally improve with time and it’s interesting to note that top jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. jumps off Shesterkin to ride Classic Legacy for the first time.
Of the others, Shesterkin finished a distant second to Tapit Trice last time out and has competitive speed figures. … Groveland has not been worse than third in five lifetime starts.
Tampa Bay Derby Betting Strategy
Win-place bets on Zydeceaux. Exacta and trifecta bets wagers with both Zydeceaux and Tapit Trice on top of Classic Legacy, Shesterkin, Groveland and perhaps Freedom Road.
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