Grade II Tampa Bay Derby Analysis, Tampa Bay Downs – 3/8/2014

The Grade II Tampa Bay Derby will be run Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, with post time set for 5:25 ET. A field of ten is scheduled to enter the starting gate, and it appears to be a relatively wide open race. Accordingly, I think you need to swing for the fences in this spot.

Ring Weekend is coming off of a maiden special weight score at Gulfstream Park last month and picks up one of top riders in the Tampa jockey colony, Daniel Centeno. Graham Motion knows how to condition horses and have them ready for big races, but this seems to be a pretty big step forward. He’ll need to improve, so if you side with him – demand value.

Surfing U S A is likely the horse that will load into the gates as the post time favorite for the Tampa Bay Derby. The Todd Pletcher trainee ran a respectable second in his three year old debut to a very nice colt in Top Billing, and he has every right to improve going forward. He has good, tactical speed that should prove to be beneficial to him in this spot. Any progression for Surfing U S A and the rest of this field could be in trouble.

Matador ran a reasonable fourth in the Grade III Sam F. Davis last month here at Tampa – but I’ve got a negative take on the Sam F. Davis. Coming out of that race, everyone and their brother said the horse to take going forward was the runner up, Harpoon. Harpoon returned last weekend in the Gotham Stakes and proceeded to lay a MAJOR egg. Until a runner proves to me that the Davis wasn’t a weak race, that’s the stance I’m taking. Pass on Matador.

Coltimus Prime may win the award for the funniest name in the race, but that doesn’t make him a contender. He’s bred to run for days, but the combination of this being his first start on dirt (although Tampa is a quirky surface), as well as his first start as a three year old makes me want to take a wait and see approach with this son of Milwaukee Brew. Pass on Coltimus Prime.

Conquest Titan has been a bit of a “buzz” horse during this Kentucky Derby prep season, and rightfully so. In his three year old debut, the Holy Bull at Gulfstream, Conquest Titan was trounced by the current Derby favorite, Cairo Prince. That being said – he did finish second, and the third place finisher in the Holy Bull, Intense Holiday, came back to win the Risen Star last month at Fair Grounds – flattering both Cairo Prince and Conquest Titan. He’s going to be one of the betting favorites in the Tampa Bay Derby, and all signs point toward him being a major contender in this spot. Watch out.

Vinceremos was the winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes here at Tampa last month, and horses that have an affinity for the Tampa Bay Downs surface tend to run well there no matter what…but I just don’t love that race he’s coming out of. He has nice, tactical speed – but until he proves to me that that effort wasn’t a fluke, I’ll play against him. Pass on Vinceremos.

East Hall ran a very big race in the Grade II Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream last month, but there have to be a few concerns about this son of Graeme Hall. For starters, he hasn’t had a breather since beginning his career as a juvenile last June. At some point, you’ve got to think this horse is going to hit the wall and need some time off. Secondly, and most importantly for me, is the fact that East Hall has only crossed the finish line first one time. Technically he’s a two time winner, but one of those victories involved his being moved up to first via disqualification. I’ll pass on East Hall.

Cousin Stephen falls into that category of having run in the Sam F. Davis…but this may be the one runner that I’d be willing to play back right out of that race. You’ve got to believe they’ll have this horse sit off the pacesetters, as it clearly didn’t work last time when they sent him to the lead. You can’t help but notice that Javier Castellano regains the mount for Chad Brown…definitely a vote of confidence for this son of Proud Citizen.

Hy Kodiak Warrior is an intriguing runner that has been training up a storm at Calder Race Course – a notoriously “tiring” race track. Distance shouldn’t be an issue for him being by Kodiak Kowboy out of an Unbridled mare – a mare that has dropped her fair share of runners that have won routing on the dirt. The addition of Lasix for the first time can only be a positive. If he can stay within striking range throughout the early running, he could be a player turning for home.

Tuscan Getaway looks like he has some talent on the green, but I’m not sure he really wants to run on the dirt. Pass on Tuscan Getaway.

At the end of the day, I do believe this is a wide open event. Are any of these horses legitimate Kentucky Derby contenders? I’m not so sure about that – but there are some promising runners that could have a say in some respectable stakes races down the road. Of the runners in the Tampa Bay Derby, I’m most interested in Hy Kodiak Warrior. He appears to have a fair amount of upside, and I love the addition of Lasix for the first time. The outside posts at Tampa Bay Downs aren’t very kind to runners, but I think this horse has the talent to overcome that issue. Upside in a field I’m not sold on is what I look for in these kinds of races – Hy Kodiak Warrior fits that mold. I like Hy Kodiak Warrior to win the Tampa Bay Derby.

SELECTION: #9 – Hy Kodiak Warrior, Gabriel Saez; ML 10-1

Matt Bernier picMatt Bernier was the youngest qualifier to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC) this past year and he is one of the stars of the Esquire series Horseplayers. is thrilled to offer his educational analysis of major stakes races.

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