Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Tampa Bay Derby Winners

Legends
Tacitus, with Jose Ortiz riding, drew clear late to win the 2019 Tampa Bay Derby by 1 ¼ lengths on the Triple Crown trail. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve heads south this Saturday to Tampa Bay Downs, which hosts the $400,000, Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. This 1 1/16-mile race offers a total of 85 Derby qualifying points, with 50 going to the winner, 25 to second, 10 to third, and 5 to fourth.

The Tampa Bay Derby was first held in 1981. It was a Grade 3 event from 1984 to 1989, and returned to Grade 3 status in 2002. In 2011, it was upgraded to Grade 2 status. It has always been contested at 1 1/16 miles.

Here, we’ll take a look back at some of the best Tampa Bay Derby winners.


Street Sense (2007)

Carl Nafzger (Eclipse Sportswire)

This dark bay son of Street Cry entered the 2007 Derby trail with history against him. The previous November, he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by 10 lengths with a dramatic move on the rail. At the time, no horse had won both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby. As such, many observers were skeptical Street Sense could win the Derby, despite the fact that his impressive Juvenile win came at Churchill Downs, the same track that would host the Derby six months later.

Trainer Carl Nafzger, who previously won the Derby in 1990 with Unbridled, decided to start Street Sense’s 3-year-old campaign in the Tampa Bay Derby. Six horses lined up against him that day, but only one looked like a serious threat on paper. Any Given Saturday won the Sam F. Davis Stakes by 2 ¾ lengths as the favorite in his prior start, and was previously second in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. The Todd Pletcher trainee went off as the 7-10 favorite, while Street Sense was the 6-5 second choice. No one else in the race went off at less than 20.10-1.

Longshots All I Can Get and Most Distinguished set honest fractions, while Any Given Saturday rated just off of them in third. Street Sense sat in fourth, about seven lengths off the leaders through a half-mile. As the field rounded the far turn, Any Given Saturday made his move after the pacesetters, and jockey Calvin Borel began to ask the 2-year-old champion for run at the same point. Entering the stretch, Street Sense came up the rail and looked ready to run away, but Any Given Saturday fought back on the outside and would not relinquish control easily. The two dueled down the stretch in an epic stretch battle, but Street Sense ultimately prevailed by a nose. His time of 1:43.11 for 1 1/16 miles established a new track record.

Despite a second-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes next out, and the so-called “Juvenile Jinx” hanging over him, Street Sense was slight 4.90-1 favorite in the Derby. He came from 19 ½ lengths back to win by 2 ½ lengths, saving every bit of ground until Calvin “Bo-Rail” wheeled him out at the top of the stretch to glide past Hard Spun. Street Sense became the first horse to complete the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-Kentucky Derby combo.


Musket Man (2009)

Musket Man started his career a perfect 3-for-3 for owners Eric Fein and Vic Carlson and trainer Derek Ryan, including a win in the Pasco Stakes in the first start of his 3-year-old season. He then tasted defeat for the first time in the Sam F. Davis, finishing third after sitting near the pace.

Despite that loss, Musket Man pressed on to the Tampa Bay Derby, where he was the 5.90-1 third betting choice. Much like in the Sam F. Davis, jockey Daniel Centeno kept him close to the leaders while racing several paths off the inside. He was behind horses entering the stretch, but angled out into about the five-path and began to make his move.

In the stretch, 35.60-1 shot Join in the Dance started to pull clear and it looked as if an upset was in the works. However, Musket Man closed with a full head of steam, and got up in the last few jumps to win by a neck.

Musket Man remained in fine form over his next few starts. In his last race before the Kentucky Derby, he won the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne by two lengths. That victory made him one of the favorites for the run for the roses. He ran well but finished third in the Derby behind shocking 50.60-1 winner Mine That Bird – but only a nose behind runner-up Pioneerof the Nile – and followed that race with another third-place performance in the Preakness Stakes. Although Musket Man did not win a graded stakes race as a 4-year-old in 2010, he finished second or third in one five times, his best effort a nose defeat in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap.


Verrazano (2013)

Verrazano made a powerful first impression. In his debut in a maiden special weight race on New Year’s Day at Gulfstream Park, he handily won by 7 ¼ lengths. After he posted a first-level allowance optional claiming win next out at Gulfstream, Coolmore-backed Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier and Derrick Smith purchased partial ownership in Verrazano from Let’s Go Stable. Todd Pletcher then sent the promising colt to the Tampa Bay Derby for his stakes debut and his third career start. The hype was overwhelming, as Verrazano went off as the 1-5 favorite in the nine-horse field. Only one other horse in the race went off at less than 10-1.

John Velazquez gave Verrazano a great trip, rating him just off leader Falling Sky in the early stages. Just before the half-mile point, Velazquez moved his mount to the front and took the lead without much trouble. Falling Sky kept him one path off the inside, but that didn’t slow down Verrazano, who drew off in the stretch and won by three lengths.

After that win, Verrazano was hailed as one of the top Derby prospects, and his status only grew following a three-quarter length win in the Wood Memorial Stakes. He was the fourth choice in Orb’s Kentucky Derby, but stopped after pressing the pace and finished 14th on a sloppy track.

Verrazano enjoyed success later in his 3-year-old season, winning the Haskell Invitational Stakes going away several weeks after the Derby. As a 4-year-old, Verrazano competed in Europe for trainer Aiden O’Brien, and hit the board in Group 1 competition twice.


Ring Weekend (2014)

Ring Weekend rolls. (Eclipse Sportswire)

This chestnut son of Tapit had never raced in stakes company before the 2014 Tampa Bay Derby. Coming in off a win in a maiden special weight race at Gulfstream Park, the Graham Motion trainee went off at 14-1 in a wide-open field of 10 horses.

Daniel Centeno had the mount on Ring Weekend for the first time at Tampa. Breaking from the inside post, Centeno sent him to the early lead and quickly established control. Despite fast fractions, including a 23.06 second quarter-mile, Ring Weekend only got stronger as the field rounded the far turn. He opened up a five-length lead and left the rest of his competitors reeling. The final margin was a never-in-doubt three lengths.

Following that breakthrough win, Ring Weekend bypassed the Kentucky Derby in favor of the Preakness Stakes, but in his Preakness prep at Calder Race Course on April 5, he lost by a shocking 9 ¾ lengths as the 3-10 favorite. That made him a 30.10-1 longshot in the second leg of the Triple Crown, and he had a turbulent trip at Pimlico and finished a well-beaten fifth. Not long after the Preakness, Ring Weekend began racing almost exclusively on turf, and he excelled on the surface. He won five graded stakes races on grass, including the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes at Santa Anita Park in 2015. His career earnings ultimately totaled more than $1.5 million.


Tapwrit (2017)

Tapwrit on top. (Eclipse Sportswire)

With a stakes win and a stakes placing under his belt, Tapwrit had the look of a 3-year-old improving at the right time entering the 2017 Tampa Bay Derby. The gray Todd Pletcher trainee won the Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 10, 2016, and followed that performance with a second-place finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, beaten 1 ½ lengths by favored McCracken. Based on those races, Tapwrit was the 11-10 favorite in the 10-horse Tampa Bay Derby.

Breaking from post position five, Tapwrit briefly raced wide but then made his way to the inside and rated towards the back of the pack. As the field rounded the far turn, Jose Ortiz asked his mount for run between horses, and Tapwrit responded with authority. He engulfed early leader State of Honor and sprinted clear in the stretch to win by 4 ½ lengths.

Although he disappointed in his next two starts, including a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby with a rough trip, Tapwrit bounced back in a big way in the Belmont Stakes. He chased down pacesetter Irish War Cry and prevailed by two lengths, becoming the second Tampa Bay Derby winner to win a Triple Crown race.


Tacitus (2019)

The 2019 Tampa Bay Derby marked Tacitus’s stakes debut for owner-breeder Juddmonte Farms. The gray son of Tapit out of champion Close Hatches broke his maiden at Aqueduct the previous November by a neck, and was off for several months after that race. In the Tampa Bay Derby, he went off as the 8.90-1 fifth choice in a field that included future Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston and eventual Grade 1 winner Win Win Win.

Tacitus rated several paths off the rail in mid-pack early on while the leaders set fast early fractions. That setup proved ripe for the Bill Mott trainee, as he churned on in the stretch and pulled clear in the last sixteenth to win by 1 ½ lengths.

Tacitus won the Wood Memorial Stakes in his next start, and finished third, elevated from fourth thanks to Maximum Security’s disqualification, in the Kentucky Derby. He added on several more placings in graded stakes company in the rest of his 3-year-old season, including runner-up efforts in the Belmont Stakes, the Jim Dandy Stakes, and the Travers Stakes. As a 4-year-old in 2020, Tacitus added another graded stakes win to his résumé when he won the Suburban Stakes. Tacitus retired in fall 2021 with a career bankroll of over $3.7 million.

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