Should Tampa Bay Downs ever choose to rename the $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II), the “Todd Pletcher Derby” might be a fitting title.
After all, the Hall of Fame trainer has dominated the 8.5-furlong Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race in recent years, winning in 2004, 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017. For good measure Pletcher, also finished second and third in 2014.
This year, Pletcher’s chances will rest with #3 Vino Rosso, who brings improving form into the race. After opening his career with a pair of easy victories, including an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs, the son of Curlin stepped up to contest the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa and ran an unusual race in defeat. After racing close to the early pace, Vino Rosso dropped back and appeared to be on his way to an off-the-board finish before finding a new gear late in the race and rallying to finish third.
Interestingly, the clock suggests his late run wasn’t an illusion. For that effort, Vinos Rosso received a 100 BRIS speed figure and an eye-catching 106 BRIS Late Pace rating, his second straight triple-digit Late Pace rating. As a son of Curlin out of a Street Cry mare, Vino Rosso is bred to improve with maturity, and I suspect we haven’t seen anywhere near his best yet. The Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will retain the mount, and with plenty of speed in the Tampa Bay Derby field, I’m expecting a big late run from Vino Rosso.
#5 Flameaway won the Sam F. Davis in gate-to-wire fashion, though he benefited from securing an easy lead and appears likely to face significant pace pressure this time around from #8 World of Trouble. The speedy son of Kantharas showed flashes of brilliance as a two-year-old and recently returned from a layoff to win the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs by 13 ¾ lengths, earning a 101 BRIS speed figure. He’ll be facing much tougher competition on Saturday while stretching out in distance, though in terms of raw talent he appears to be as promising as any and looms as an intriguing threat on the front end.
A bit of a wildcard is #9 Untamed Domain, who will make his dirt debut following a series of excellent efforts on grass, including a runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I). Although he could only finish third in the Dania Beach Stakes (gr. III) last time out, he was returning from a layoff that day and was likely short of his best; we could see improvement from the son of Animal Kingdom in his second start of the year.
Since this race looks tough and competitive, I’ll keep things simple and bet Vino Rosso to win while also keying him in the exacta:
$10 to win on #3 Vino Rosso at 5-2 or higher
$3 exacta: 3 with 5,8,9 ($9)
$2 exacta: 5,8,9 with 3 ($6)