Tampa Bay Derby analysis, jockey selections

The Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby puts three-year-olds in the spotlight at Tampa Bay Downs this Saturday. The 1 1/16th-mile heat drew a field of 10 looking for points toward the Kentucky Derby. Fifty points go to the winner, 20 to the runner-up, 10 to third and five to fourth. The race features four returning from the Sam F. Davis, held over this course last month as a prelude to Tampa Bay Downs’ marquee event. Post time for the Tampa Bay Derby, the 11th of 12 races of the day, is 5:27 p.m. EST. Don’t forget to check out FanXT’s Daily Fantasy Jockey game!

As I mentioned above, #5 TAPWRIT (second), #8 STATE OF HONOR (third), #9 WILD SHOT (fourth) and #4 NO DOZING (sixth) all ran in last month’s Sam F. Davis, giving a valuable indicator on how they’ll handle Tampa’s deep, demanding dirt course on Saturday. Though they each have merit, I’m going with one of the new shooters as my top pick.

#6 BEASLEY (9-2) scratched out of the Fountain of Youth to await this spot; probably a wise decision given how Gunnevera ran away with that race late. BEASLEY’s hand was forced last time out as he broke from the rail and went to the lead before tiring to second late. It wasn’t a bad effort speed-figure wise, and he should have speedy targets to run at (STATE OF HONOR and #7 SONIC MULE) assuming he returns to his stalking tactics today. His last work for Mark Hennig was sensational and he lures Irad Ortiz Jr, Aqueduct’s top rider.

#9 WILD SHOT (5-1) appears to be best of the runners returning from the Davis. He made an early, wide move on the far turn before flattening out under Robby Albarado that day. With a better trip, he and Albarado can easily make up the two lengths they need to on TAPWRIT.

TAPWRIT (3-1, morning-line favorite) is one of two entered by Todd Pletcher today, the other being likely pacesetter SONIC MULE. ‘MULE will get Pletcher’s top jockey, John Velazquez, but TAPWRIT will have the services of Jose Ortiz. TAPWRIT’s dramatic improvement last time out was likely due to a combination of factors, but it’s tough to overlook what a great trip he had in the Davis. TAPWRIT should get another ideal pace setup, but if he has to sacrifice ground he could be a vulnerable favorite.

#3 BASHA (12-1) is a longshot worth a look in the lower rungs of a trifecta or superfecta play. He went two-for-two to start his career before running into back-to-back Pletcher monsters in Fact Finding and Third Day. Still, those two efforts in defeat were admirable, albeit not fast enough to warrant consideration on top today. Based on pedigree, he could develop into a force later in the year as the distances increase. Emisael Jaramillo sees fit to ship in and ride.

The play: $1 trifecta 6/3,5,9/3,5,9, $1 exacta key box 6/5,9 ($10)

DFJ analysis: Though I can’t recommend SONIC MULE in the Tampa Bay Derby, rider John Velazquez looks like a “must have” in the stable this Saturday. Velazquez pilots five horses on the undercard, all below 5-1 in odds. That includes Challenger Stakes favorite Stanford and Hillsborough Stakes favorite Isabella Sings.

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