Saturday’s Grade 2, $350,000
Bay Derby marks the highly-anticipated stakes debut of Verrazano, who will
make his first start around two turns for Todd Pletcher following a pair of
smashing victories at Gulfstream Park. A leading Kentucky Derby contender, the
unbeaten colt will retain the services of John Velazquez and drew post 6 in the
Verrazano, a likely odds-on favorite, would add 50 points to his ledger by
winning Saturday, with the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby awarding points on a
50-20-10-5 scale in the new “Road to the Kentucky Derby” scoring system.
The son of More Than Ready made his career bow on New Year’s Day, capturing a
6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight by 7 3/4 lengths, and Verrazano really
turned heads when stretching out to a one-turn mile in a February 2
allowance/optional claiming event, streaking away to a 16 1/4-length decision.
The latter performance netted him a 104 BRIS Speed rating, by far the top number
earned by any of the Tampa Bay Derby participants, and the bay colt counts last
year’s Grade 2 Risen Star winner El Padrino as a half-brother.
Verrazano raced up close to the pace in both of his previous starts and could
be tracking Falling Sky during the early stages Saturday. That rival exits a
wire-to-wire tally in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa, holding for a neck
decision in his first start against graded stakes rivals, and Falling Sky
scratched out of the recent Grade 2 Fountain of Youth in favor of this spot. The
probable pacesetter drilled five furlongs in a bullet :59 3/5 at Palm Meadows on
Monday for trainer John Terranova and the son of Lion Heart figures to be
winging it early with a returning Jose Espinoza up.
Multiple stakes winner Dynamic Sky will receive a rider switch to Joel
Rosario following his fast-finishing second in the Sam Davis. A Woodbine stakes
winner in his second career start, the Mark Casse-trained colt recorded a
runner-up in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland before shipping to
Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile where he wound up a non-threatening
sixth in his dirt debut. His sophomore season got off to an encouraging start,
with Dynamic Sky rallying to win the seven-furlong Pasco at Tampa, and the son
Mesa will attempt to make a late impact here.
Honorable Dillon invades on the upswing for trainer Eddie Kenneally,
posting a nice win in the Grade 2 Hutcheson on February 2, and will look to
carry that form forward in his first two-turn attempt. The gray son of Tapit
will pick up the services of Corey Lanerie in his second stakes start.
Pletcher will also send the unbeaten Park City postward. A debut winner at
Saratoga, the Harlan’s Holiday colt wasn’t seen again under silks until February
2, returning with a hard-fought neck decision in a 6 1/2-furlong
allowance/optional claimer at Gulfstream. The late runner will receive a rider
switch to Edgar Prado.
The Tampa Bay Derby marks the return to action for the unbeaten Purple Egg,
who has been sidelined since a nice win in the six-furlong Inaugural at Tampa on
December 1. Stakes victor Java’s War, who was last seen finishing sixth in the
Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in late November, is also slated
to make his first appearance at three.
The remaining contestants are Eton Blue, who finished second to Verrazano
last time, and recent Gulfstream allowance/optional claiming runner-up Offlee
Saturday’s card also features the Grade 3, $150,000
Hillsborough for fillies and mares at about 1 1/8 miles on turf. Old Tune, a
multiple Group 1 queen in Brazil, stretched her winning streak to five when making
her U.S. debut in the February 2 Grade 3 Endeavour and will make a return trip
to Tampa’s turf for Pletcher in the Hillsborough. Rosario will keep the mount on the
Appealing Cat, Last Full Measure and Hooh Why, the respective second through
fourth-place finishers in the Endeavour, will all return Saturday, but Old
Tune’s main rivals are a couple of fresh faces, Forces of Darkness and Mystical
Star. A Group 3 winner and Group 1-placed in France last year, Forces of
Darkness will make her U.S. bow for new trainer Chad Brown on Saturday and her
European class figures to make her an attractive option for bettors. Mystical
Star captured the Grade 2 New York last season and ended 2012 with a pair of
commendable efforts for Christophe Clement, finishing second in the Grade 1
Spinster before just missing by a neck to Starformer in the Grade 3 Long Island.
Three-year-old fillies will kick off the stakes action Saturday in the
Suncoast and the one to beat is Close Hatches, who established herself as a
promising candidate for the Kentucky Oaks when rolling to a seven-length victory
in her career debut at Gulfstream Park on January 26. Conditioned by Bill Mott,
the daughter of First Defense will meet nine rivals in the one-mile and 40-yard