The “Road To The Kentucky Derby” express will log a lot of miles this Saturday with qualifying races on the east and west coast. A field of 10 young Thoroughbreds are scheduled go to the starting gate in the 34th running of the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) at Tampa Bay Downs while 10 other horses will vie for Derby qualifying points in the $300,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park. Let’s take a look at the Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
Of all the horses entered in this race, Conquest Titan (7-2) is the one I like the most. I've always liked his pedigree. He’s the best bred horse in this race and he’s one of the best bred horses on the Derby Trail.
However, as a two year old, Conquest Titan was disappointing. He was my long shot pick in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October where he finished a dismal fifth and he was 13th (dead last) in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Conquest Titan closed his racing season on a positive note, though, with win in a one mile race at Churchill Downs in a finish time of 1:35.27. That’s the kind of time I like to see in a young colt that may have classic potential.
In his debut as a three year old, Conquest Titan finished a respectable second in the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park on January 25. After that race, trainer Mark Casse remarked that a change in riding tactics in his last two races to bring Conquest Titan from off the pace could be the reason for his new-found success. And my friend J.J. Hysell noted in her In The Money blog, that Conquest Titan could be one to watch going forward.
I definitely agree, J.J., and I’ll be watching to see how Conquest Titan runs in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
Trainer Todd Pletcher has two entered: the morning-line 3-1 favorite, Surfing U S A, and Vinceremos who’s tabbed as the morning-line third choice at 4-1 odds. They both could, perhaps, be competitive. But, of the two, I like Surfing U S A the best.
Surfing U S A has never finished worse than second in three starts and his second-place finish to Top Billing in his last race was pretty good.
A bullet work out on February 23 could have Surfing U S A ready to make another move forward.
A Long shot I like in this race is Ring Weekend (15-1) who’s trained by Graham Motion and comes into this race with a 1-1-2 record in five starts. Since finishing off the board in his maiden debut, Ring Weekend has been steadily improving and in his fifth race he finally broke his maiden running 8½-furlongs at Gulfstream Park in a time of 1:43.46.
That finish time and his Brisnet Speed Figure of 91 makes Ring Weekend competitive with this group and he could be improving at the right time of year. With Tapit as his sire and Cryptoclearance as his damsire, Ring Weekend has the breeding to be competitive in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
Other long shots that could factor in the exotics are Cousin Stephen (9-2), East Hall (10-1) and Hy Kodiak Warrior (10-1).
Under the points system implemented by Churchill Downs to determine which horses will qualify to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate, the winner of the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) will receive 50 points, the second-place finisher will receive 20 points, the third-place finisher will receive 10 points and the fourth-place finisher will receive five points. Here’s a look at the current top 20 Derby qualifiers:
2014 KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
Individual Leaders ranking, total points, Trainer, Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1. Samraat, 60, Rick Violette, Jr., $450,000
2. Intense Holiday, 53, Todd Pletcher, $327,500
3. Wildcat Red, 50, Jose Garrofalo, $410,000
4. Albano, 24, Larry Jones, $150,000
4. Uncle Sigh, 24, Gary Contessa, $150,000
6. Tapiture, 22, Steve Asmussen, $300,738
7. Vicar’s in Trouble, 20, Mike Maker, $160,000
8. General A Rod, 20, Mike Maker, $140,000
9. Havana, 14, Todd Pletcher, $660,000
10. Cairo Prince, 14, Kiaran McGlaughlin, $470,000
11. Honor Code, 14, Shug McGaughey, $340,000
12. Tamarando, 12, Jerry Hollendorfer, $490,000
13. Midnight Hawk, 12, Bob Baffert, $84,000
14. Bond Holder, 11, Doug O’Neill, $333,000
15. Rise Up, 10, Tom Amoss, $786,633
16. We Miss Artie, 10, Todd Pletcher, $242,000
17. Candy Boy, 10, John Sadler, $260,000
18. In Trouble, 10, Tony Dutrow, $170,000
19. Noble Moon, 10, Leah Gyarmati, $145,000
20. Ami’s Holiday, 10, Josie Carrroll, $136,145