You know we're getting close to the Kentucky Derby when there are two prep races in one day. We're fortunate enough to have just that with the Grade 2 $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on the east coast and the Grade 2 $300,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park. The winner of both of these races will be awarded 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby point system with 20, 10 and 5 going to the second, third and fourth place finishers, respectively.
Let’s start off with the Tampa Bay Derby. On paper it looks like there should be an honest pace. Long shot Tuscan Getaway, who won wire-to-wire at Woodbine last time out, looks to be a significant pacesetter along with Canadian invader Coltimus Prime. Todd Pletcher, who won this race twice with Limehouse (2004) and Verrazanno (2013), looks to win this race a third time with 3-1 morning line favorite Surfing U.S.A. and Sam F. Davis winner Vinceremos. Surfing U.S.A is coming off of a runner-up effort in an allowance optional claiming event at Gulfstream Park in January where he finished behind Derby hopeful Top Billing. He also figures to be a part of the fast pace that could take place early on. Vinceremos on the other hand has more of a come-from-behind style of running, which he showed last time when he won the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes.
Conquest Titan, the 7-2 second choice in the field, is coming off of a second place behind Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park a couple of months back. In that same race he beat eventual Risen Star winner Intense Holiday. Trainer Mark Casse looks to win his second Tampa Bay Derby which he won with Prospective in 2012. Conquest Titan has a lot of class as well as experience against some of the top Derby contenders this year and a come-from-behind running style that should set up well against a pace like this one, which makes him my pick for this race. It looks like there should be a fast pace with Tuscan Getaway, Coltimus Prime, Surfing U.S.A and Cousin Stephen for trainer Chad Brown should be close up as well. Casse also sends out Matador who finished fourth beaten a length in the Sam F. Davis last time out behind entrants Vinceremos and Cousin Stephen. Like his stable mate, he also has a closing racing style that should be in his favor. Ring Weekend from the barn of Graham Motion looks like he has a chance to possibly pull off an upset. Last time out, he broke his maiden going two turns at Gulfstream Park last month. He should be sitting just off the pace to where he can take over once the pace falls apart.
The San Felipe Stakes out west is just the first of five stakes races that are part of a monster card at Santa Anita Park. Bob Baffert-trained Bayern scratched from the race due to a foot bruise. Last time out, Bayern won by 15 lengths with an attention grabbing race. Baffert will still be represented by Midnight Hawk who won the Grade 3 Sham Stakes earlier this year and ran third in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes last time out. Baffert has won this race a record four times with Prime Timber (1999), Point Given (2001), Preachinatthebar (2004) and Pioneerof the Nile (2009) and looks to get his fifth win with this son of Midnight Lute who is owned by Mike Pegram, Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Queeneville and Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Tice.
Like the Tampa Bay Derby, it looks as though there will be a good pace set up front. Midnight Hawk and Kristo, runner-up in the Sham Stakes, show some early speed. Unstoppable Colby from the barn of D. Wayne Lukas ran on the lead last time out when he won wire-to-wire in a maiden special weight at Oaklawn Park. This should set up for a horse like California Chrome, the 9-5 morning line favorite. He has a tendency to sit right off of the pace and it has worked well for him in his last two efforts, both of which were dominant victories. Most of his races have been against California-breds, but I wouldn’t hold that against him because he has plenty of racing experience against stakes winners like Tamarando and Life Is a Joy.
Scheduled post times for these races are 5:05 EST for the San Felipe and 5:25 EST for the Tampa Bay Derby.