The 40th running of the Grade 2, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs is one of three 85-point qualifying races (50-20-10-5) this Saturday, as things heat up significantly on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Only four of the 12 sophomores in the field boast anything more than a maiden victory, and morning-line favorite Sole Volante, who ran down heavily favored Independence Hall in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes four weeks ago, is the only graded stakes winner in the lineup. The others with more than a single victory are: Chance It, who won the Mucho Macho Man Stakes in his seasonal debut at Gulfstream Park and was scratched from last Saturday's Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain Of Youth Stakes at that track after drawing the extreme outside post; Relentless Dancer, a Louisiana-bred stakes winner who was a well-beaten fourth in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes first time out this year; and Bye Bye Melvin, who exits maiden and first-level allowance wins over the Tampa Bay Downs turf course. The pace should be contentious, and by the luck of the draw several horses who have exhibited some early speed – among them Texas Swing, Spa City, Market Analysis and Mo Mosa – drew nearest the inside.
After starting his career with two stretch-running wins on turf, Sole Volante rallied for third behind Chance It in the Mucho Macho Man when switched to dirt by trainer Patrick Biancone, earning an Equibase Speed Figure of 98. Five weeks later he uncorked a big late run for a decisive score in the Sam Davis with a gaudy figure of 108. It's worth noting that stablemate Ete Indien also began his career with two races on grass, and exploded to win last Saturday's Fountain Of Youth by better than eight lengths in his third dirt appearance, which is exactly where Sole Volante will be in his development come Saturday. What's more, Ete Indien worked seven furlongs on turf prior to the Fountain Of Youth and Sole Volante did the same last week. As was also the case with Ete Indien in the Fountain of Youth, jockey Florent Geroux replaces the injured Luca Panini.
Chance It has done nothing wrong so far with a 4-2-0 record from six starts for red-hot conditioner Saffie Joseph Jr., who opted to wait for this spot after the Florida-bred colt drew the far outside for the Fountain of Youth. While it's true Chance It beat Sole Volante in the Mucho Macho Man with a solid Equibase Speed Figure of 102, be aware Chance It was involved in a knockdown-dragout brawl through the stretch with As Seen On Tv, and the latter felt the effects of that effort when checking in a distant third in the Fountain of Youth as the second choice. Chance It is susceptible to the same kind of regression second time back from a layoff, but serving to allay those fears are a slate of fast workouts. Paco Lopez picks up the mount as Tyler Gaffalione travels to ride in southern California this weekend.
Spa City and Unrighteous ran one-two in a well-rated maiden race at Gulfstream four weeks ago, earning respective Equibase Speed Figures of 105 and 104 that are the fastest route numbers in the field behind Sole Volante. Spa City, a Godolphin Stable homebred by 2007 Tampa Bay Derby winner and subsequent Kentucky Derby and Travers Stakes winner Street Sense, has made steady progress in three starts for Kiaran McLaughlin, who earlier this week announced he will leave the training ranks at the end of March to serve as agent for top jockey Luis Saez. Unrighteous is one of three in the field trained by Todd Pletcher, who also entered last-out maiden graduates Market Analysis and Texas Swing as he seeks a record sixth Tampa Bay Derby victory. Market Analysis lived up to his backing for a debut maiden win at 13-10 odds going seven furlongs at Gulfstream, earning an Equibase Speed Figure of 94. Texas Swing stretched out for a front-end maiden win earlier on the Sam Davis undercard, earning a 92, and the son of Curlin projects as an early pace factor from the inside post.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, consists of Relentless Dancer (91), Mo Mosa (92), Letmeno (91), Bye Bye Melvin (100 on turf), King Guillermo (105 on turf), and Tons of Gold (91).
Top Win Contenders:
Second-tier Win Contenders at Good Odds: