TAMPA BAY DERBY | PURSE: $350,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 2
The Tampa Bay Derby has produced short-term pain but long-term gain for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Since 2000, Pletcher has run eight horses in the Tampa Bay Derby, winning it in 2004 with Limehouse while running second six times and third once. His last four runners have been defeated by a neck, neck, neck, and nose.
One of those runners was Super Saver, who two starts after finishing third by a neck to Odysseus in last year's Tampa Bay Derby went on to win the Kentucky Derby for Pletcher and WinStar Farm. Two other Tampa Bay Derby second-place finishers -- Bluegrass Cat in 2006 and Impeachment in 2000 -- also ran second in the Kentucky Derby for Pletcher.
Saturday, Pletcher is back at Tampa with Brethren, an undefeated half-brother to Super Saver who will be heavily favored against eight rivals to win the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, the centerpiece of a 12-race card at Tampa Bay Downs. The card, which gets underway at 12:24 p.m. also includes the Grade 3, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the turf and the $75,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the dirt. Pluck, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner, makes his seasonal debut in a one-mile turf allowance race.
Uncle Mo, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion, was entered in the Tampa Bay Derby, but will scratch to run in Saturday's $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream.
Brethren, who like Super Saver is owned by WinStar Farm, won the Sam F. Davis Stakes by four lengths last month. He broke from the outside post in a 10-horse field that day and again drew the extreme outside on Saturday. He also had the outside post last November when he won a first-level allowance race at Churchill Downs going a mile.
In that allowance race and in the Sam Davis, Brethren veered outward at the start. In the Sam Davis, in which he was ridden for the first time by Ramon Dominguez, Brethren quickly recovered and assumed a forward position, stalking the pacesetting Ribo Lobo for 5 1/2 furlongs before taking over at will and winning while being taken in hand the final 100 yards.
"I think there is room for improvement," Dominguez said. "He was just playing with the field last time out."
Pletcher said one reason he is running Brethren back in the Tampa Bay Derby is because of the ease with which he won the Sam Davis.
"He gives me the impression that he does what he has to do, he's like that a little bit in the morning, he's always saving something," Pletcher said Thursday. "The question is going to be when someone makes him run faster can he? He gives me the impression that he certainly can."
In addition to meeting the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers from the Sam Davis -- Too Experience, Watch Me Go and Beamer -- Brethren meets several new faces including Free Entry, a son of Tale of the Cat who has both his starts this year after running fourth to Uncle Mo last August at Saratoga. Free Entry is making his first start around two turns.
"If you look at him he's a solid horse. He's not short, but he's a muscular horse," said Brown, a onetime assistant to the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel. "When Bobby had Ghostzapper, I never thought the horse would go two turns. He proved to me you can't make your mind up about them until you try them."
Striding Ahead, trained by Bill Mott, steps into stakes company coming out of a maiden win gong two turns at Tampa on Feb. 5. Others entered include Economic Summit, Crimson Night, and Moonhanger.