Kentucky Derby Points On the Line in Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby
Friday, March 5, 2021
    OLDSMAR - With the Kentucky Derby  eight weeks away, time is running short for trainers entertaining visions of red roses and mint juleps. Saturday’s Gr. II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby will bring together 12 3-year-olds, most with much to prove if they are to continue to advance toward a date with destiny on May 1.

    “Except for Bill Mott’s horse (Candy Man Rocket, who won the Gr. III Sam F. Davis Stakes here on Feb. 6), everyone is searching to see if they belong as a contender or are just a pretender,” said Saffie Joseph Jr., who will send out three horses in the 41st annual Tampa Bay Downs showcase: Moonlite Strike, Super Strong and Awesome Gerry.

    “Candy Man Rocket is a deserving favorite. A lot of the others have shown glimpses of ability, but I think they would have to run their best race ever to win,” Joseph said. “It seems like there are a lot of horses in there with two or three starts, so it looks like it is wide-open.”

    The mile-and-a-sixteenth Tampa Bay Derby, scheduled on the main dirt track as the 11th race on a 12-race card, is one of five Festival Day 41 Presented by Lambholm South stakes worth a combined $1 million in purse money. The race is also a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points affair, with 50, 20, 10 and 5 points awarded to the first four finishers toward securing a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs.

    The other stakes on the card include the Gr. II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf, scheduled as the ninth race; the Gr. III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass, scheduled as the 10th race; the Gr. III, $100,000 Michelob Ultra Challenger Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the dirt, slated as the fifth race; and the $75,000 Columbia Stakes for 3-year-olds at a mile on the turf, scheduled as the seventh.

    Post time for the first of Saturday’s 12 races is 12:17 p.m.

    Here is the full field for the Tampa Bay Derby in post position order, with trainer, jockey and morning-line odds:

1. My Liberty, Maria Ines Mejia, Tomas Mejia, 30-1; 2. Super Strong, Saffie Joseph Jr., Antonio Gallardo, 8-1; 3. Candy Man Rocket, Bill Mott, Junior Alvarado, 2-1; 4. King of Dreams, Juan Carlos Avila, Samy Camacho, 20-1; 5. Boca Boy, Cheryl Winebaugh, Angel Arroyo, 15-1; 6. Awesome Gerry, Saffie Joseph Jr., Hector Diaz, Jr., 15-1; 7. Moonlite Strike, Saffie Joseph Jr., Daniel Centeno, 20-1; 8. Hidden Stash, Victoria Oliver, Rafael Bejarano, 4-1; 9. Unbridled Honor, Todd Pletcher, Julien Leparoux, 20-1; 10. Helium, Mark Casse, Jose Ferrer, 6-1; 11. Promise Keeper, Todd Pletcher, Luis Saez, 8-1; 12. Sittin On Go, Dale Romans, Roberto Alvarado, Jr., 20-1.

     On Sunday, Mott said Candy Man Rocket “looked as smooth as silk” while breezing 4 furlongs at Payson Park Training Center in preparation for the race. Neither that assessment nor his 2-for-3 record, which includes a 9 ¼-length maiden victory on Jan. 9 at Gulfstream, deterred the connections of 11 others from competing. Candy Man Rocket will break from the No. 3 post while again being ridden by Junior Alvarado.

    Super Strong, in some ways, is the most intriguing of the Joseph's three. He is a son of Super Saver, who finished third in the 2010 Tampa Bay Derby, then went on to win the Kentucky Derby. Super Strong’s only career start, on Dec. 19, resulted in an impressive come-from-behind victory in the Grade I, 7-furlong Classico Agustin Mercado Revron Stakes on a sloppy track at Camarero in Puerto Rico.

    Both Super Strong and Moonlite Strike are owned by Marc Tacher’s Sonata Stable. Tacher transferred Super Strong to Joseph’s Palm Meadows Training Center Beach in Boynton Beach in mid-January. “He has trained well enough to give it a shot,” Joseph said. “It’s hard to judge his form in Puerto Rico, but he acts like the distance will be no problem. We aren’t giving up much experience to most of the other horses in the race. We definitely would like him to have another race in him, but we have to play the hand we’re dealt.”

    Joining Candy Man Rocket and Super Strong as a graded stakes-winner in the race is trainer Dale Romans’s Sittin On Go, who will break from the No. 12 post with Roberto Alvarado Jr., in the irons. Sittin On Go won the Gr. III Iroquois Stakes on Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs, then was a non-threatening ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 6 at Keeneland. A pair of subsequent off-the-board finishes against top-level competition finds Sittin On Go with more questions than answers as Saturday nears.

    Todd Pletcher, who has sent out a record five winners of the Tampa Bay Derby, has two colts in this year’s renewal. Promise Keeper, who will break from the No. 11 post under Luis Saez, broke his maiden in his second start on Feb. 6 at Gulfstream, drawing away to a 5-length victory in a 1-mile maiden special weight contest on a sloppy track.

    Pletcher’s other entrant is Unbridled Honor, who will break from the No. 9 post under Julien Leparoux. Unbridled Honor is 1-for-3, breaking his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs in a mile-and-40-yard maiden special weight race on Feb. 6.

    The conditioner knows about winning the Tampa Bay Derby with lightly-raced colts. His 2013 winner, Verrazano, was making his third career start; 2015 winner Carpe Diem was making his fourth start; and his 2016 and 2017 winners, Destin and Tapwrit, their fifth starts.

    Two horses that seem certain to take a fair share of wagering dollars are the third and fourth-place finishers in the Sam F. Davis, Hidden Stash and Boca Boy. Hidden Stash, who is trained by Victoria Oliver, will be reunited with jockey Rafael Bejarano, who rode him to his two career victories last fall at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. They break from the No. 8 post.

Boca Boy, the Sam F. Davis pace-setter, is the only Florida-bred and the only gelding in the race. The son of Prospective is trained by Cheryl Winebaugh and will be ridden by Angel Arroyo.

    Ken Winebaugh, the assistant to wife Cheryl, said that Boca Boy rebounded in fine fettle from his Sam F. Davis effort and that he expects another good performance. Arroyo, who rode Boca Boy in his first three starts, last rode him when he finished second in August in the Proud Man Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream.

    “I think he got a little tired in the Sam F. Davis, but he didn’t quit. This horse has plenty of heart,” Ken Winebaugh said. “I don’t think he has to be in front. He laid off the pace in the Proud Man and went to the lead (before getting caught by Hot Blooded).”

    While agreeing with the consensus that Candy Man Rocket is the horse to beat, Winebaugh thinks the Sam F. Davis form could hold up. “I think those three horses from the Sam F. Davis will be the toughest. I don’t see any newcomers who scare me too much,” he said.

    Like any Florida-bred worth his salt, Boca Boy could benefit from rain that is forecast for Saturday. He has won twice on a sloppy track at Gulfstream, including a victory on Sept. 26 in the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Florida Sire In Reality Stakes. As a state-bred, Boca Boy is eligible for the race’s $50,000 FTBOA money for registered Florida-breds. The last Florida-bred to win the Tampa Bay Derby was Watch Me Go in 2011.

    Saturday’s race appears similar to last year’s from the standpoint of the favorite being the Sam F. Davis winner – in 2020, Sole Volante. While the gelding ran well for a second-place finish, he could not catch 49-1 shot King Guillermo and Samy Camacho, who turned it on through the stretch for a 4 ¾-length victory.

    King Guillermo’s connections – Camacho, owner Victor Martinez’s Victoria’s Ranch and trainer Juan Carlos Avila – are back for another try with King of Dreams, who broke his maiden in his second start on Jan. 30 in a mile-and-a-sixteenth turf race at Gulfstream. King Guillermo had finished third in the Pulpit Stakes on the grass at Gulfstream in his previous start.

    King of Dreams and Camacho will break from the No. 4 post. King Guillermo, who finished second in a division of last year’s Gr. I Arkansas Derby but has not won since the Tampa Bay Derby, is entered in Saturday’s Gr. I Santa Anita Handicap.

    Did you know that the field contains two unbeaten horses? Beside Super Strong, there is Helium, who won both of his starts last fall racing 7 furlongs on the Tapeta surface at Woodbine. Mark Casse, who won the 2012 Tampa Bay Derby with Prospective, is the trainer. Off since his Display Stakes victory in October, Helium will break from the No. 10 post under Jose Ferrer.

In a race that seems as wide-open as any in the race’s history, My Liberty shouldn't be overlooked, assigned 30-1 morning-line odds. He is trained by Maria Ines Mejia and will break from the No. 1 post under jockey Tomas Mejia (no relation).

    My Liberty broke his maiden racing 7 furlongs on Feb. 12 and has the potential to set all his backers free by pulling the upset.
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