March 27, 2023

Three points to ponder: 2022 Tampa Bay Derby

Grantham at Turfway
Grantham breaks his maiden at Turfway Park (Coady Photography)

Favored Classic Causeway would ordinarily be the main storyline going into Saturday’s $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2), but the weather is grabbing attention.

Rain is a virtual certainty in the morning, softening the Tampa Bay turf course to some degree. The forecast calls for clearing in the afternoon, which could make for a drying-out main track by Tampa Bay Derby post time (5:23 p.m. ET).

While conditions will depend upon how well the “meteorological handicapping” verifies, we’ll propose the likelihood of some variety of off going in the Kentucky Derby (G1) prep.

Here are my points to ponder:

1. The Classic Causeway-Shipsational rematch could be much closer.

When Classic Causeway drew away to an emphatic victory in the Sam F. Davis (G3), Shipsational didn’t get going until the stretch, but closed well for second.

That was uncharacteristic for the usually sharp New York-bred, who’s won all three times he’s been on or close to the pace. Shipsational’s only prior loss likewise came when he was further back early, due to a rough start. In the Davis, the son of Midshipman appeared to put himself behind the proverbial eight-ball by breaking a beat slow. Note that Manny Franco picks up the mount for the Tampa rematch. Aside from a better start ensuring a better chance, Shipsational must be loving the forecast. He’s 2-for-2 in the slop.

Yet Classic Causeway is eligible to be effective on an off track himself, at least judging by his work history. He’s fired a couple of bullets over tracks labeled wet-fast and good in the past, and at a muddy Saratoga last August, he drilled six furlongs in 1:12.05. His early speed theoretically helps in these conditions as well. Sire Giant’s Causeway is responsible for two Tampa Bay Derby winners, Carpe Diem (2015) and Destin (2016) (the only one in the last 20 years to turn the double with the Davis), and the “Iron Horse” is also the broodmare sire of 2013 hero Verrazano.

If Shipsational is in position to engage Classic Causeway, we’ll learn more about both colts.  

2. Grantham has a stealthy look coming out of the Withers.

It’s probably hazardous to overinterpret the 75-1 Rebel (G2) win by Un Ojo. But at the same time, he did provide a form boost for the Withers (G3), where he’d stayed on to take second behind frontrunning maestro Early Voting. Grantham was a couple of lengths further back in fourth, tiring after making a short-lived move into second. Although that’s not enough in itself to lean on, his attempt at Aqueduct – and follow-up appearance here – represent some intriguing spotting by Mike Maker.

Indeed, Grantham had been wintering at Turfway Park. A distant runner-up to once-fancied Rocket Dawg in their mutual debut at Churchill Downs, Grantham duly broke his maiden next time over Turfway’s Tapeta, despite a stumbling start, as the 4-5 favorite. After the Withers, I half-expected him to revert to Turfway and turn up in the John Battaglia Memorial.

Instead, Maker transferred him to Gulfstream Park, where Grantham has been training forwardly since the Withers. As a longtime fan of his sire, Declaration of War, I’m admittedly partial to him, but the fact that Samy Camacho takes the call only adds to the intrigue at 20-1.

3. Does it matter that Major General fits two race trends?

My colleague Vance Hanson has highlighted three key trends in the Tampa Bay Derby, and Major General sports two of them: he’s trained by Todd Pletcher, and he’s making his seasonal reappearance.

On the other hand, Major General has scraped home by just a neck in each of his two starts, and his Iroquois (G3) form has not held up at all. Even at the time, it was questionable since the filly Hidden Connection ran considerably faster in the Pocahontas (G3) on the same night. The Iroquois alumni have failed repeatedly in ensuing stakes, so Major General has to step up to defend his own signature win.

Several graded also-rans have questions to answer too, most notably Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) third Giant Game. Reportedly displacing his palate when eighth in the Holy Bull (G3), he’ll try to rebound after undergoing a throat procedure.