Run at 1 1/16 miles, Saturday's Grade 2, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs features a competitive group of 11 3-year-old runners. There was a slight shuffling of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve prep schedule when the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park was postponed, and to be honest, this race is a more exciting one to discuss. As always, questions are welcome and can be submitted on Twitter by tagging me, @EmilyOptixEQ.
This week only one question came in from a reader, and it was a really important one. While it does not apply specifically to this race, it can be used for this race and for handicapping in general. The question was submitted by Twitter user @JGoodling, asking how do I modify my handicapping for Tampa Bay Downs, and specifically for its track surface. While each track has a profile, and even has horses that prefer that track to other ones, the general answer to that question is that basically, my handicapping process remains the same no matter what track a race is run on. That handicapping process looks at speed, class, pace, and form – and it will be the focus of this week’s five questions for the Tampa Bay Derby.
1. Speed – Which horses are fast enough to win the Tampa Bay Derby?
Each handicapping component has some crossover, but when looking at speed it is important to consider how fast the horse has been running and what type of speed figure they are capable of earning in the race that’s being analyzed. I use OptixFIG, but this process can be used with whichever speed figures you prefer. For the most part, horses in this field are running OptixFIGs in the upper 80s to mid-90s. A horse like #3 Lord Dragon, who topped out at 85 in his most recent start, does not look fast enough to compete with this field. That one is pretty obvious, but how about a horse like #1 Admire? He is a lightly raced type and improved with each start (82, 86, 88) heading into this contest. On speed figures, he does not stand out, but he is capable of moving forward just enough to compete here if that pattern continues. My top four OptixFIG horses in the Tampa Bay Derby: Win Win Win, Dream Maker, Well Defined, and Outshine.
2. Form – Which horses are sitting on their “winning” race?
Like speed figures, especially with young, developing horses, form is crucial and it should be progressing as a runner attempts top graded stakes races such as the Tampa Bay Derby. One of the benefits to using OptixNOTES for form cycle is to help determine, based on past races, whether a horse will improve, regress, or stay the same next out. #5 Well Defined has the look of a horse who could regress off his recent front-running score in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. He was able to race alone on the lead and on the favorable part of the racetrack to earn a 96 OptixFIG in the Sam F. Davis. Taking a deeper dive in his past performances, he was coming into the Sam F. Davis as the second start in his form cycle after finishing fifth at Gulfstream Park in January, and was therefore capable of an improved effort. While he had been able to pair mid-90 figures back in September of last year, those two races (a runner-up effort followed by a win) were run under favorable race flow conditions as he was not pressured on the early lead. Another form question applies to #9 Dunph. His easy win in the Spendthrift Juvenile Stallion Stakes last September fits in Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby based on speed as he earned a 92 figure, but his more recent form is questionable. He has been consistently running races in the 70s following that win, and it’s tough to see him move forward based on his most recent 11th-place effort in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford on Feb. 16. Todd Pletcher sends out #6 Outshine, who will be making his second start of the form cycle. He ran a 94 last out in an allowance win at Gulfstream on Feb. 10, and based on his visual appearance in that win, he looks capable of a repeat in his first graded stakes try. While his speed figure was a career best, he did not look to be taxed that day, and should gain valuable experience from that race while not losing fitness.
3. Class – Which horses are graded stakes material?
The conversation of class came up in last week’s Five Questions, and class is often hard to define. The way I explained it in human terms was to consider a person running one mile in competition. For example, if I generally run a mile in eight minutes, but one day I run my best and finish the mile in seven minutes, I will be outclassed in a future race running against opponents that typically run the mile in seven minutes. For horses, the ability to hold their form and speed figures consistently defines class. #7 Win Win Win will be getting a class test in the Tampa Bay Derby by taking on graded stakes company (and also racing a route of ground) for the first time. He has demonstrated both speed and class (earning a rare A- OptixGRADE in the Pasco Stakes) in each of his four starts and he should be taken seriously in this race even with a class hike. A similar case can be made for #4 Dream Maker coming back to stakes competition following a dominant effort in allowance company on Feb. 19 at Fair Grounds. He has graded stakes experience from his 2-year-old season, though it’s tough to gauge his class at that level as he ran average to poor in both races but also had excuses in both. Dream Maker’s stablemate #2 Sir Winston has been average in each of his two graded stakes appearances, and therefore comes into this race a little short on class. That, combined with his profile as a closer, makes him tough to endorse for anything more than a minor award. #10 Tacitus will compete against winners and in stakes company for the first time on Saturday. Both of his races last fall in maiden company were good (earning a B OptixGRADE) and his speed figures fit with the race par; however, he’ll have to improve off those efforts to overcome the class hike.
4. Pace – Does pace make this race?
Occasionally, a horse that stands out as “lone speed” in a paceless race, or a horse that has a “closer profile” gets extra attention in a race with a lot of speed signed on. But most of the time, handicapping a race involves envisioning what the race shape looks like, and then determining which horses will fare the best and worst within that projected race shape. The Tampa Bay Derby does not look to favor one style more than another; however, those horses who possess some tactical speed and finishing ability should benefit from the projected race shape. Getting back to the original Twitter question about assessing a particular track surface, the Tampa Bay Downs main track profiles as one where deep closers are often up against it. That does not mean they cannot win – however, it does require them to check the boxes in speed, form, and class, and then also get the right pace scenario to set up their late run. There are ways to look at pace horse-by-horse as well. Going back to Well Defined, he has benefited from lone/flow trips in his past performances and that is something to consider. #11 Zenden, who has speed and is drawn to the outside, is stretching out for the first time, and his jockey will probably have to send him to the lead early to have any chance. That should place legitimate pressure on Well Defined in the early stages of the race.
5. Who wins the Tampa Bay Derby?
When analyzing the Tampa Bay Derby field based on speed, form, class and pace, Dream Maker seems to check all of those boxes. Win Win Win also is a logical choice based on those handicapping components – however, this horse is doing something new by stretching out to race two turns for the first time. Based on his prior races from a visual standpoint, there is nothing that suggests he cannot get the distance. For Win Win Win, considering that unknown is more a question about his betting value, since he is listed as the morning-line 5-2 favorite. There is upside for both Outshine and Admire, and either one or both could figure in the outcome based on class, speed or form. Well Defined offers poor value at 7-2 on the morning line should a regression occur. Potentially, Tacitus could get added attention from bettors and be sent off at odds shorter than his 12-1 morning line. If so, he would lack value as he falls short based on the above-discussed handicapping factors.
Horse-by-horse analysis of this race and Saturday’s Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct are complimentary on OptixEQ.com. Thanks for reading, and as always, good luck, horseplayers.