Under normal circumstances in a Kentucky Derby (GI) prep, a well-bred three-year-old that counts Todd Pletcher as its trainer and Javier Castellano as its jockey would be bet. Heavily. Especially after a graded stakes score over the track. But for some reason, the pre-race buzz about Twin Creeks Racing’s Destin before Saturday’s Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (GII) was — at the most — a dull roar.
On Saturday, though, and with a national audience watching, the gray son of Giant’s Causeway turned up the volume on his Derby chances to full blast with an impressive track record-setting performance to win by a length over a strong and talented field. After breaking alertly and stalking the early pace of :24.04, :47.88, 1:11.43 and 1:36.27 set by runner-up Overkill, Destin successfully battled to the wire to prevail, stopping the clock in 1:42.82 over a fast track.
At odds of more than 7-2, Destin paid $9.20, $4.80 and $3.60 for the victory. Stablemate Overkill, making his first stakes appearance after two career wins, left the gate at more than 4-1 and returned $5.20 and $4.20. Near 15-1 outsider Star Hill was seven lengths back in third and was good for $6.80. The exacta paid $52.40 and the trifecta was worth $323.70. The superfecta with Rafting checking in fourth paid $1,909.20.
Favored Brody’s Cause, who had been training well but was making his sophomore debut, was never a factor after a troubled break and checked in seventh.
Destin, who was bred in Kentucky by James Weigel and Taylor Made Stallions, actually won the prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, the Sam F. Davis (GIII), four weeks ago with authority and had trained impressively since, yet still seemed short on the respect scale. All that changed with his Tampa Bay Derby score and he’s officially one to watch with eight weeks left until the first Saturday in May.
The $400,000 Keeneland yearling is out of the Grade II winner Dream of Summer and a half-brother to Grade I winner Creative Cause.
“I was very, very pleased with (Destin’s) performance,” Pletcher said. “He seems to be getting more and more professional and is learning how to finish his races. I felt he would improve with more experience and that is proving to be true.
“After his first two races, he was still piecing things together, but he has gotten better with experience. We will assess him, but probably he would not come back in the Florida Derby, which leaves the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass or Arkansas Derby as possibilities.”
With the $210,000 winner’s cut of the Tampa Bay Derby purse, Destin has now amassed a bankroll of $390,700 and his career line stands at 5-3-1-0.
Upset in the Oaks
Making her first start in nearly eight months, as well as her first appearance on North American turf, Amerman Racing’s Baciami Piccola posted the upset against a talented field of three-year-old fillies by a half-length in the $155,000 Florida Oaks (GIIIT). With jockey Julien Leparoux at the helm for the first time, the English-bred filly by Equiano rallied from near the back of the pack in the early going, was swung wide for clear running room at the top of the lane and passed her tiring rivals with each stride to prevail, stopping the clock in 1:42.20 for the 1 1/16 miles on a firm course.
“She came over in mid-summer and was a little slow to get adjusted to the way we do things over here, so we sort of played with her through the fall,” trainer Brian Lynch said. “Julien and her started to hook up once we got to Palm Meadows, and he spent a lot of time with her. She is a very difficult filly to ride and can be temperamental, but they seemed to get along fantastic.
“If you have a bigger stable, you are able to gauge them a little off your better horses, and she held her own with them. So we thought we would take a shot and run her here in the Oaks. It’s wonderful when a plan comes together; you look like a genius some days and like a fool other days, but today was a good day.”
The winner paid $31, $12.60 and $8.20. Runner-up Enjoy Yourself, at odds of more than 5-1, closed off the $280.60 exacta while Family Meeting was just a neck back in third, completing the $1,226.10 trifecta at odds of nearly 8-1.
Baciami Piccola nearly quadrupled her bankroll with the $90,000 winner’s share of the Florida Oaks purse, bringing her earnings total to $113,891 from a record of 4-2-1-1.
Tepin Powers Past Isabella Sings to Capture Hillsborough
There’s an old cliche about jockeys having ice in their veins and sitting chilly when it comes to being patient. And if nobody understood exactly what that meant, on Saturday, jockey Julien Leparoux made it perfectly clear with his impeccably timed ride aboard champion Tepin in the $200,000 Hillsborough Stakes (GIIT) at Tampa Bay Downs.
While Tepin’s trip may have given her fans a bit of a fright, Leparoux never panicked. After his good friend John Velazquez, aboard 7-1 outsider Isabella Sings, set sail from the break and opened a near 20-length lead on the field with every stride up the backstretch, Leparoux didn’t react. He rode Tepin just as he had in her past eight races and with the patience of Job.
When the frontrunner started to get leg-weary and back up at the top of the stretch, Leparoux expertly guided Tepin to the outside, passing every rival but one until deep stretch and with enough ground left, took command and pulled away to win, completing the nine-furlong test in 1:46.26.
“I knew (Isabella Sings) was going fast, but when that happens, you almost have to not pay attention to the one in front,” Leparoux said. “My horse had to fight hard today, which is good. I didn’t whip her because I could feel she was running for me. She had to have a big race to win, and she did.”
At odds of 2-5, Tepin was worth $2.80, $2.20 and $2.10.
Next stop for Tepin, who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (GIT), will be a return to male competition in the Maker’s 46 Mile at (GIT) at Keeneland on April 15, according to trainer Mark Casse.
Overall, the daughter of Bernstein and the Stravinsky mare Life Happened, has earned $2,685,973 from a career line of 17-9-3-1.