The $400,000, Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby provides 12 aspiring colts and geldings the opportunity to earn their share of the 85 points awarded (50 to the winner) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve as well as the winner’s share of the purse. Leading the field for Saturday's race at Tampa Bay Downs is Candy Man Rocket, winner of the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at this track last month. Sam F. Davis third-place finisher Hidden Stash is also entered for Saturday’s race and hopes to improve and potentially turn the tables on Candy Man Rocket this time around.
Among the rest, four others have won stakes races but those wins came last year. Sittin On Go won the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes Presented by Ford last summer, but he has not finished better than sixth in three stakes tries since then including a 17-length defeat in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes in January. Helium easily won the Display Stakes when last seen in October, but that race was run at seven furlongs and on an all-weather track at Woodbine so he has many questions to answer (distance, surface and layoff) in this situation. Boca Boy won the FTBOA Florida Sire In Reality Stakes in September. Then, in his comeback in the Sam F. Davis last month, Boca Boy tired to fourth after setting the early pace and could have an even harder time holding the early lead today with the speedy Promise Keeper (coming in off a maiden win) in the field. Super Strong is a Kentucky-bred colt who won his only start at Camarero Race Course in Puerto Rico when victorious in a seven-furlong stakes race in December. Among the rest, King of Dreams led from start to finish at the distance of the Tampa Bay Derby last month on turf and may run as well on dirt. Unbridled Honor also won his most recent start, at Tampa Bay Downs, and like King of Dreams hopes to make a big step from maiden winner into the stakes ranks. Similarly, My Liberty just won over the track to break his maiden and will be attempting to step up in class as he races around two turns for the first time. Awesome Gerry finished second in the Jean Lafitte Stakes last November but was seventh and beaten by 17 lengths in the Holy Bull in his most recent race. Moonlite Strike won races in November and December but was fourth and beaten by more than 17 lengths in the Smarty Jones Stakes in his most recent start.
When analyzing the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park last week, I noted that the winner of the prep for the Fountain of Youth, Greatest Honour, appeared to be the one to beat based on how he handled the track in the Holy Bull Stakes. I think that’s the case this week as well for the Tampa Bay Derby, as Candy Man Rocket looks tough. The Candy Ride colt proved his 9 ¼-length victory going six furlongs in January was no fluke when winning by a shorter margin, just one length, in the Sam F. Davis Stakes last month. Although he earned a 90 Equibase Speed Figure in the Sam F. Davis as compared to a 94 when winning the aforementioned sprint before that, Candy Man Rocket won the Sam Davis very professionally as he stalked pace setter Boca Boy from the start and then took over while three paths wide on the turn, holding off Nova Rags and Hidden Stash. It’s likely that Boca Boy will want the lead in the Tampa Bay Derby from the start just as he’s had in his last two races on dirt. It’s also likely that Promise Keeper will have to go fast from the 11 post to get good position from the start. Therefore, Candy Man Rocket should have a great stalking position under jockey Junior Alvarado from the ground-saving three post. Although there are a couple of horses which have earned higher figures in their most recent starts, one of those (King of Dreams, 96) was on turf and the other (Helium, 93) was racing around one turn more than four months ago. This potentially gives Candy Man Rocket the edge he needs to win his second stakes race in a row.
That being said, King of Dreams has an upset chance if he can transfer his turf form to dirt. The 96 figure he earned winning at this distance on turf at the end of January is the best figure earned by any horse in this field, period. He did lead from start to finish in that race but since he does not wear blinkers I do not believe he is a need-the-lead type similar to Boca Boy or Promise Keeper and so he too could take up a stalking position in the early stages. Getting the services of Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Samy Camacho is a good sign, as is the fact trainer that Juan Avila just saddled the 52.80-1 upset winner in the Davona Dale Stakes last weekend as well as the 49.20-1 upset winner in the 2020 Tampa Bay Derby, King Guillermo. Considering that his dam is a daughter of A.P. Indy who has produced three dirt route winners from seven other foals, I have little doubt King of Dreams can transition successfully from turf to dirt and run a competitive race.
Hidden Stash tracked in eighth in the early stages of the Sam F. Davis last month, which is much farther back than he had been in his previous two route races last fall, both of which he won, earning 88 and 89 figures. Following two months off, Hidden Stash returned in the Sam F. Davis and the early pace was much faster than he experienced previously, which helps to explain why he was farther back than usual. Nevertheless, with three-sixteenths of a mile to go, Hidden Stash swung to the four-path and commenced a rally from eighth to third, finishing just a neck behind the runner-up. Watching the replay, I note Hidden Stash was ridden out after the wire giving him a bit of an education in passing the top two finishers even though the race was over. Being a son of hot sire Constitution, whose son Tiz the Law won 2020 Belmont Stakes, I have little doubt Hidden Stash fits at this level. With veteran jockey Rafael Bejarano coming in from Kentucky to ride and expecting logical improvement in his second start off the layoff, Hidden Stash must be given a lot of respect as a contender to win the Tampa Bay Derby.
In spite of the potential to get into a hot early pace battle with Boca Boy, Promise Keeper is intriguing enough to consider as having a chance in this race. Also a son of Constitution, Promise Keeper stretched out to a mile for the first time last month in his second career start and dominated by five lengths in a field of 11, earning a 90 figure. His dam, the Curlin mare Mira Alta, produced stakes winner Wicked Awesome so there’s a lot of quality in his pedigree, plus he has good connections in trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Luis Saez. If Promise Keeper can get the early lead over Boca Boy from his outside post and not expend too much energy, he has potential to get confident and possibly hold off the challenges of Candy Man Rocket, King of Dreams and Hidden Stash.
The rest of the field, all who have the ability to compete effectively in this race, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Awesome Gerry (86), Boca Boy (84), Helium (93), Moonlite Strike (93), My Liberty (87), Sittin on Go (91), Super Strong (82) and Unbridled Honor (85).
Win Contenders, in probability order:
Candy Man Rocket
King of Dreams