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Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher is set to seek his sixth victory in the Grade 3, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby in the 43rd edition of the 3-year-old showcase at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, March 11.
Pletcher, who last won the race in 2017 with Tapwrit, has entered two horses in the mile-and-a-sixteenth "Road to the Kentucky Derby" prep race: Tapit Trice, a gray colt owned by Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable, and Shesterkin, a dark bay trained by Robert V. LaPenta.
The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby awards 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner and 20, 15, 10 and 5 to the next four finishers.
Race 11 at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, March 11 - Post 5:15 PM
|1||Lord Miles||12-1||Paco Lopez
|Saffie Joseph, Jr.|
|2||Classic Car Wash||8-1||Emisael Jaramillo
|3||Classic Legacy||6-1||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
|5||Mikey Bananas||30-1||Pablo Morales
|6||Tapit Trice||8-5||Luis Saez
|7||Freedom Road||15-1||Hector Diaz, Jr.
|8||Dreaming of Kona||30-1||Scott Spieth
|10||Champions Dream||20-1||Antonio Gallardo
|12||Prairie Hawk||20-1||Samy Camacho
|Saffie Joseph, Jr.|
Tapit Trice and Shesterkin are part of a 12-horse field for the mile-and-a-sixteenth Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, which is the 11th race on a 12-race card. The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby should go off around 5:15 p.m. Post time for Saturday's first race is 11:55 a.m.
The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is one of five stakes worth a combined $1-million in purse money Saturday. Also on tap are the 25th running of the Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes, for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf course; the 40th edition of the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies going a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf; the 32nd running of the Grade III, $100,000 Michelob Ultra Challenger Stakes, for horses 4-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track; and the 17th running of the $75,000 Columbia Stakes, for 3-year-olds racing a mile on the turf.
The five stakes races comprise an additional 50-cent Pick 5 wagering opportunity on the 7th-through-11th races..
Tapit Trice, who drew the No. 6 post position for the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, and Shesterkin, who drew the No. 9 post, finished 1-2 in an allowance/optional claiming race on Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park, with Tapit Trice drawing off for an 8-length victory from his stablemate. Both horses worked out Saturday at Pletcher's Palm Beach Downs base in Delray Beach, with Tapit Trice breezing 4 furlongs in 49.34 seconds and Shesterkin being timed in a more leisurely 51.68.
Luis Saez again will ride Tapit Trice, while Edgard Zayas has been named on Shesterkin.
MARCH 5 - When he arrived at Tampa Bay Downs last fall, trainer Gregg Sacco thought his then-2-year-old colt Freedom Road might be a candidate for the Grade III, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, the centerpiece of Saturday's Festival Day 43 card at Tampa Bay Downs.
And even though he has competed only once at the meet, winning a 6-furlong allowance/optional claiming race on Jan. 21, Freedom Road has done nothing to change Sacco's opinion.
"He's come out of each of his workouts since then better and better, and as far as his fitness and energy levels go he is right on cue," said Sacco, who trains the son of Malibu Moon out of Lovable Lady, by Not For Love, for partners Pinnacle Racing Team and Madaket Stables.
"The Tampa Bay Derby is a very prestigious race, and we'll be honored and privileged to be a part of it," Sacco said. "I feel that if he displays the same strong kick he has sprinting, he will be competitive. He's got the home-court advantage and he'll be able to walk over from his own barn.
"It looks like there are going to be a lot of talented horses running, and a lot of unknowns. But you've got to take a swing in the batter's box to connect," Sacco added. "If he runs to our expectations it opens up a wide range of races for us, and if he doesn't, we know we have a talented sprinter."
Now 2-for-5 from five starts, with a second and a third last October in the Laurel Futurity, Freedom Road is one of at least 10 3-year-olds expected for the mile-and-a-sixteenth Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, a major "Road to the Kentucky Derby" prep race awarding 50 Run for the Roses qualifying points to the winner and 20, 15, 10 and 5 to the next four finishers.
The quest for Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve points, combined with the fact that each of the likely starters will be facing the toughest tests of their young careers, guarantees the eyes of the Thoroughbred racing world will be trained on the Oldsmar oval late Saturday afternoon.
The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is one of five stakes races - four of them graded - worth a combined $1-million in purse money.
The card also includes the Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes, for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf; the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf; the Grade III, $100,000 Michelob Ultra Challenger Stakes, for horses 4-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track; and the $75,000 Columbia Stakes, for 3-year-olds at a mile on the turf.
While the winner of the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby will join the Kentucky Derby trail in full force, most if not all of the others will be forced to regroup. The `unknown" factor is heightened upon consideration that only one of the probable entrants, trainer Ramon Minguet's Zydeceaux, has won three races.
The Florida-bred Zydeceaux captured the 7-furlong Pasco Stakes here on Jan. 14, then set the pace to the far turn in the Grade III, mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis Stakes here on Feb. 11 before finishing fifth, three-and-a-quarter lengths behind winner Litigate.
That Todd Pletcher-trained colt is being pointed toward the Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 25, but the Hall of Fame conditioner won't be empty-handed for Tampa Bay Downs's premier event. He is expected to enter two Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby runners on Wednesday: Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable's Tapit Trice and Robert V. LaPenta's Shesterkin, the 1-2 finishers in a Feb. 4 allowance/optional claiming, 1-mile race at Gulfstream Park.
Tapit Trice finished 8 lengths clear of his stablemate, and some handicappers are speculating he will be favored to give Pletcher his sixth Tampa Bay Derby triumph.
Others expected to enter at Press time included the second-through-fourth-place finishers in the Sam F. Davis: trainer Eoin Harty's Groveland, Mark Casse's gelding Classic Car Wash and Bill Mott's Classic Legacy; Zydeceaux; trainer Saffie A. Joseph, Jr.'s colts Prairie Hawk, unplaced in the Sam F. Davis, and West Coast Cowboy, third in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 4 at Gulfstream; and trainer Tim Hamm's gelding Mikey Bananas, second here on Feb. 12 in an allowance/optional claiming event in his most recent start.
Sacco's belief that Freedom Road belongs was strengthened by his 4-furlong breeze Saturday in 48 1/5 seconds under Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr., who was aboard for his maiden score on July 23 at Monmouth and will ride him Saturday.
"We've had this race in mind since he won in January, and the spacing between that race and each of his workouts has him right on target," Sacco said. "He has done nothing wrong in any of his races. In the 1-mile Sapling at Monmouth (Aug. 27, a fifth-place finish going two turns), he was rank early and didn't really settle, but he ran steady through the wire and didn't give an indication he couldn't go two turns."
Given his breeding (deceased Malibu Moon sired 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb and more than 100 stakes winners, while dam Lovable Lady won three stakes and almost $400,000), Freedom Road was a real bargain at the 2022 Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training. He was picked out by Sacco's son and assistant, Will, for Michael Ravallo's Pinnacle Racing Team, and purchased for $20,000, with Sol Kumin's Madaket Stables buying in after his 2-year-old campaign.
MARCH 3 - Eoin Harty has had high expectations for his Godolphin-owned homebred colt Groveland since he began training him before his first career start last fall at Gulfstream.
"He has always acted like he was a little bit special," the trainer said of the son of 2007 Tampa Bay Derby and Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. "He has all the qualities you look for in a nice horse, and he has a wonderful disposition, which is probably his main strength."
For all of his strong points, though, Groveland showed Harty a new aspect of his developing game in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes here on Feb. 11: a determination to overcome adversity in his desire to win.
After getting shut off by pace-setter Zydeceaux just as he was launching a major move at the 3/8-mile pole, forcing jockey Daniel Centeno to hit the brakes, Groveland re-rallied to throw a scare into the eventual winner, Litigate, and rider Luis Saez.
Although unable to run down Litigate, Groveland was an impressive second at odds of 21-1, a length-and-a-half ahead of Classic Car Wash.
"If you had told me at the top of the stretch he'd be fourth, I would have been happy. If you had told me he would hit the board, I'd have been ecstatic. And if you told me he'd be second, I'd be delighted," Harty said this morning from Santa Anita in California. "I went through a whole range of emotions in the last three-eighths of a mile."
Harty is preparing Groveland - and himself - for another trip on the emotional roller coaster of big-time racing in the Grade III, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 11. The mile-and-a-sixteenth main track contest is a 100-point "Road to the Kentucky Derby" race, with the winner receiving 50 points toward a guaranteed spot in the Run for the Roses starting gate on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
As part of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, the Tampa Bay Derby offers 100 Derby qualification points to the top five finishers, divided on a 50-20-15-10-5 basis.
MARCH 1 - Brad Cox, Todd Pletcher and Bill Mott, the trainers of three of the last six Kentucky Derby winners, have combined to nominate 24 3-year-old Thoroughbreds to the 43rd running of the Grade III, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday, March 11 at Tampa Bay Downs.
The mile-and-a-sixteenth contest on the main dirt track, which has produced two winners of the Kentucky Derby - winner Street Sense in 2007 and third-place finisher Super Saver in 2010 - has attracted 55 nominations. The race's allure, in addition to the rich purse, is the availability of 100 "Road to the Kentucky Derby" qualifying points for the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
The winner of the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby earns 50 points toward qualifying for a position in the Run for the Roses starting gate.
The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is the main course on a Festival Day 43 menu that includes four other stakes, headed by the 25th running of the Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes, a mile-and-an-eighth challenge for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward on the Oldsmar turf course. Previous winners of the Hillsborough include Breeders' Cup champions Dreaming of Anna in 2008, Zagora in 2012, Stephanie's Kitten in 2015 and Tepin in 2016.
There are 26 fillies and mares nominated to the Hillsborough. Seven are trained by Chad Brown, who has sent out the winner of the race five times and three times in the last five years, including last year's running with Bleecker Street.
The 40th running of the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass, has drawn 37 nominations. Four are from the barn of Brown, and if he enters, he will be bidding for his third consecutive victory in the race and fourth overall.
Before being switched to the dirt from the main track in 2011, the Florida Oaks produced two winners of the Longines Kentucky Oaks run the day before the Kentucky Derby: Luv Me Luv Me Not in 1992 and Secret Status in 2000.
The fourth graded stakes on the Festival Day 43 card is the 32nd edition of the Grade III, $100,000 Michelob Ultra Challenger Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward racing a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track. The 24 nominees include last year's Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Classic Causeway, since then a Grade I winner for trainer Ken McPeek.
The fifth stakes on the card is the 17th running of the $75,000 Columbia Stakes, a 1-mile event on the turf for 3-year-olds. There are 42 nominated. Pletcher, who has won the race twice, has six nominees, with Kelsey Danner nominating four and Arnaud Delacour nominating three.
Christophe Clement, who has won the race three times, including last year with Heaven Street, has two Columbia nominees.
Total stakes purse money for the Festival Day 43 card is a cool $1-million.
As is always the case this time of year, racing secretaries and stakes coordinators at major tracks have begun a full-court recruiting push to land some of the leading 3-year-olds in training for their Kentucky Derby preps. No fewer than eight Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby nominees are entered in Saturday's Grade II, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, including 7-5 morning-line favorite Forte, Pletcher's Eclipse Award Champion 2-Year-Old Colt.
Many of the remaining Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby nominees appear more than qualified to advance to Louisville on the first Saturday in May. The group includes the top three finishers in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes here on Feb. 11: the winner, Pletcher's colt Litigate, runner-up Groveland from the barn of Eoin Harty and third-place finisher Classic Car Wash, trained by Mark Casse.
Other nominees with withers genetically designed for floral garlands include Cox's Angel of Empire, who won the Grade II Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Lincoln and Lamarque Crescent City Ford on Feb. 18 at Fair Grounds; Hit Show, also trained by Cox, who won the Grade III Withers on Feb. 11 at Aqueduct; Pletcher's impressive Feb. 4 allowance/optional claiming winner at Gulfstream, Tapit Trice; Dubyuhnell, who won the Grade II Remsen Stakes on Dec. 3 at Aqueduct before a dull performance in the Sam F. Davis; Mott's Classic Legacy, fourth in the Sam F. Davis; and Grade III winner Two Phil's, trained by Larry Rivelli.
Much more will be learned over the next several days as trainers with Triple Crown aspirations reveal their plans.
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