Todd Pletcher sends out two in the Grade 2 – Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday looking for a slot in Kentucky Derby starting gate.

The $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby will take place tomorrow at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Florida. The one thing I like the most about the place I like to call the greatest “sandpit” on earth is the old-school atmosphere that resides over the oval in Oldsmar. There is a reason that some of the best trainers in the world send their horses to Tampa Bay for the Kentucky Derby prep races, it’s because it brings back the good ol’ feelings that we all remember from our younger days at the racetrack.

This coming Saturday, Todd Pletcher trainees’ TAPWRIT and SONIC MULE will look to stamp their name in the Kentucky Derby top 20 point earners and solidify their position in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. TAPWRIT is coming off an impressive second place effort to McCRAKEN in the Grade 3 – Sam F. Davis Stakes also run at Tampa Bay Downs. Many pundits believe McCRAKEN to be the Derby favorite at this point, he set the track record at Tampa Bay Downs at this exact distance. Jockey Jose L. Ortiz comes back to town looking as he looks for a reason to lock on to one of his current rides on the trail to the Derby. TAPWRIT found some slight trouble heading for home in the Tampa Bay Derby and having to wait that little bit allowed McCRAKEN to circle the field and drive right by to a clear lead. TAPWRIT continued to close with a fast rush for a solid placing and four Derby qualification points. It’s going to be hard for me to jump of his bandwagon considering his improvement in the Sam F. Davis.

His toughest test could come from stablemate SONIC MULE who is owned by WinStar Farms. He took a step back in the Grade 2 – Swale Stakes in the beginning of February at Gulfstream Park. Prior to that he won the Mucho Macho Man and the Buffalo Man both at Gulfstream Park as well. He has improved a great deal from his two year old season to his three year old season, his paced numbers have improved over 100% from his worst effort his best effort. It will be interesting to see how Pletcher attacks this race. He wants to see both runners on the Derby trail, but they have different owners and likely are not similar in talent. My eyes see TAPWRIT as the better of the two, but we will find out more in the afternoon tomorrow.

Here is a breakdown of the remaining horses and how I see the race panning out.

#1 – TALE OF SILENCE (Paco Lopez – Barclay Tagg {20% 15 Starts})

Tale of Silence

There is not a whole lot to say about this son of TALE OF THE CAT, he has been winless in his last four starts, his lone win was in a six furlong sprint in the mud at Belmont. He ran a complete dud in the Grade 2 – Remsen Stakes which has turned out to be a lackluster and key race to bet against anybody that ran in it and is starting out as a three year old. None of them have come back to produce to date. In other words, this one is a true long shot.

#2 – THE MONEY MONSTER (Joel Rosario – Bill Mott {16% 57 Starts $0.86})

The Money Monster TAM 2017

Undefeated in two starts, lightly raced and impressive in two starts against much lighter groups. Broke maiden at GPW in stylish fashion at 20-1 in November, came back to prove it wasn’t a fluke in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa going seven furlongs. Now, he takes a shot going two turns against a much tougher crowd, but there are some positives for this long shot.

His pace figures are on the edge of being right there with a little bit of improvement which is completely possible considering the last couple races. His trainer/jockey combo was elite at one point in time and there’s never a time when Bill Mott has no runners. This could be his three year old with the most talent. It looks like he was a private purchase after the debut victory.

He could be part of the exotics if there is a hot pace up front. He should sit a nice trip considering the post position. I don’t expect him to be near the lead, but he should be part of the early pace set up and then drop off slightly.

Not on top yet, it would take a slight breakdown up front to get victory. There are some very fast horses in this mix.

#3 – BASHA (Emisael Jaramillo – Gilberto Zerpa {40% 42 Starts $1.25})

Basha 2017

Started out as an undefeated two year old at GP and GPW last Fall and did it impressively coming from well off the pace to tackle paces that were not all that hot. Tried the Smooth Air Stakes in December and was no match for the winner, but it was on the slop and he showed a significant increase in early speed going eight furlongs. Even with the solid early fractions, he ran second in that stakes and followed it with a improvement in pace/speed figures in the Just One More Stakes, but was beaten 3/4 of a length in his first start as a three year old on a 10 week layoff. In his second start at three he should improve. He is one of the horses I like in this spot. New to Tampa, that’s important to note, watch his warm up and how he takes to the track.

#4 – NO DOZING (Daniel Centeno – Arnaud Delacour {36% 33 Starts @ TAM $0.92})

No Dozing

We broke down this horse for the Sam F. Davis so I won’t go into great detail on his race history, but I will make an important note that he dropped well of his average pace number as a two year old in his debut as a three year old. That could mean a couple things. He wasn’t fully prepared for that start which looked to be the case. Centeno never engaged the horse in the pace scenario. Everybody interprets things differently, but I believe he was not in tip top shape. I believe he will improve back to his normal effort and if he doesn’t we have to assume something has gone astray. He will likely give a big surprise effort, but I don’t know if it will be good enough. He was part of that ‘DON’T BET – REMSEN GROUP’, but I think he is the one that could buck the trend.

#5 – TAPWRIT (John Velazquez/Todd Pletcher {27% 41 starts 0.70})

Tapwrit

We talked about this son of Tapit up top and he is ready to prove he is the real deal. He will need a pace to run at and I don’t know how much of one he will get to run at. There is some speed in here but not a rabbit of any sorts, maybe that’s what SONIC MULE can provide. He must be used on all tickets depending on the price. Visit my home page at http://www.twitter.com for live updates prior to the race. You gotta remember, I need to see these horses before I can make a TRUE selection. Visual handicapping is the most important part of handicapping.

Trainer Todd Pletcher is ITM the 75% of the time @ Tampa Bay Downs so you can bank that at least one of his entrants and probably both are going to make it onto the board. He hits the top two spots at a rate of 19 out of 28 times which is over two thirds of the time. He does have a tough cast of characters to fend off in today’s Tampa Bay Derby, but Tampa is sort of a niche track and you have to have a knack for knowing where to be and how to run on it, so experience and knowing how to win on the surface plays a big part in how you should bet this race. As much as the regular handicapper wants to throw out the Pletcher entrants in an attempt to find a price, doing it in the Tampa Derby is probably not the right spot.

#6 – BEASLEY (Irad Ortiz Jr./Mark Henning {20% 5 Starts $2.00})

Beasley Coglianese

Sired by the speedy SHACKLEFORD, Kentucky bred BEASLEY has thrown up the fastest pace figure out of the six horses mentioned so far and it came in defeat in his last start at this distance at GP on 2/3/17. He has improved in every start. He has had a new jockey in every start with the exception of today, Irad sticks to the mount for today’s race.

BEASLEY’S only win came in his debut in open company at the Aqueduct on 12/1/17 and he went off at 3-1, he showed great speed as expected out of the gate and led at first call, relinquished the lead and then dueled clear after drifting out into the 4path slightly.

Mark Henning has had little success routing (5% in 39 starts) Even so you have to take note of how BEASLEY will effect this race. He definitely increases the speed factor and will likely be sent from the outside if not straight to the lead, just off the lead. The other Ortiz flew into town for the mount, so this horse is no joke, but I just can’t see him being part of the scenario at the end unless he wins it. So, personally I would play the horse in horizontal tickets and on the top of wagers or not at all.

#7 – SONIC MULE (John Velazquez – Todd Pletcher {29% 243 starts 0.87})

Sonic Mule 2017

We also talked about this one up top, this one sired by DISTORTED HUMOR has been fast in all of his starts, but some what inconsistent as far as pace numbers are concerned. He actually has been headed the wrong direction over his last three starts all at GP, but he ships in to Tampa for the first time where Pletcher does well as explained above.

This horse is hard to gauge and I would expect a top performance for this animal as Pletcher tries to amass as many Derby entrants as he can.

You must use him in all horizontal wagers and vertical wagers. It’s too risky not to unless you are taking a stand with a long shot. Which isn’t completely insane with this group.

#8 – STATE OF HONOR (Julien Leparoux – Mark Casse 27% 96 Starts)

State of Honor

STATE OF HONOR (#10 above) JUST MISSED IN THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

Took five tries to get his first win against some of the tougher two year olds up in Canada. Has gradually improved over the past two starts as a three year old. Set the pace in the Sam F Davis but faded and was passed right by at the top of the lane without question.

Will likely not be the one that makes the lead in this start because his pace figures do not have him being the fastest horse in the bunch. Unless Leparoux literally forces this horse tot he lead, I expect him to sit a stalking trip.

Even so, his pace numbers do put him in the mix, but I just don’t think his running style adds up to being a contender. He did show a bit of ability rating in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes back in January and it might take a start like that one to have a shot in this race.

If and only if he decides to sit off the pace and rate which will likely be his only choice does he have a chance to win the race. He is not a complete toss but and it will depend a lot on physical condition and how I see him today. I am undecided but negative at this point.

#9 – WILD SHOT (Robby Albarado – George Arnold II – 0% 3 starts)

Wild Shot TAM 2017

Has shown very good early speed figures in many of his starts. He has faced the best Kentucky has to offer as a two year old. I like his position in the Sam F. Davis, but he got blown by at the top of the lane. It could have been partly Albarado’s fault for this horse.

His running style will lean towards him having a slight advantage because he knows to come from off the pace, but he needs to learn to kick into a high gear a little quicker. In other words, he needs a better turn of foot and I don’t think that is something you can really teach a horse. If he can rev up into high gear in time, he has an outside shot. It is possible he wins today but until I see improvement, I can’t see him as a Derby contender.

#10 – ZION VALLEY (Huber Villa-Gomez/Kevin Rice) 0% 4 starts

Huber VG

Simply the most unlikely winner in the field. Local longtime jockey Huber Villa-Gomez teams up with Kevin Rice to try and stun the horse racing world by earning a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

This three year old by Congaree out of Samantha D is not bred to win at this level and would have to run a career best pace number and his speed figure would have to improve more than I have personally ever seen from  a maiden who is racing in graded stakes and coming from the maiden claiming 16k level.

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