In the absence of Sam F. Davis Stakes (GIII) winner McCraken, a field of ten will line up to compete in Saturday’s $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (GII) at Tampa Bay Downs. Headlining the group are Sonic Mule and Tapwrit and both are trained by Todd Pletcher, who has won three of the last four runnings of this race.
Owned by the partnership of Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert V. Lapenta, the hopes have always been high for Tapwrit, who was a $1.2 million Keeneland September yearling purchase in 2015. After finishing a distant tenth in his September debut, the son of Tapit returned two months later to break his maiden by a length in a one-mile maiden special weight event at Gulfstream Park West.
Then, entered as a “main track only” runner for the Pulpit Stakes, Tapwrit was sent off as the 2-1 favorite and held off the late charge from stablemate Master Plan to prevail by a length over a sloppy track. In the Sam F. Davis, Tapwrit overcame a rough trip and ran on late to come within 1 ½ lengths of McCraken, while finishing second. The absence of that foe should lead to heavy favoritism for the colt this time around.
Calumet Farm’s stakes winner Sonic Mule, the other Pletcher entrant, has won three of his last four, most recently finishing third in the Swale Stakes (GII) behind Favorable Outcome and Three Rules. The son of Distorted Humor only has one win around two turns, which came in the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes; however, his trainer has expressed in the past that distance is a concern for him. In his only other graded stakes start, Sonic Mule was fourth (beaten 18 ¼ lengths) behind Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) winner Gunnevera in the Saratoga Special Stakes (GII) at Saratoga last summer.
Lee Lewis and Mark B. Grier’s improving Shackleford colt Beasley scratched out of the Fountain of Youth in favor of this spot for trainer Mark Hennig. A debut winner at Aqueduct in December, the colt has since been second in two consecutive allowance races. The most recent of those second-place finishes came behind Todd Pletcher’s Battalion Runner, who many believe is that trainer’s best 3-year-old. Hennig has consistently reiterated how much Beasley learned from that race and that the colt has shown significant improvement in the mornings since.
State of Honor, Wild Shot and No Dozing all return from the Sam F. Davis in hopes of a better result this time around. Owned by Conrad Farms, the Mark Casse-trained State of Honor’s only win came over Woodbine’s Tapeta track, but he has been second and third in his first two dirt starts, never beaten more than 2 ½ lengths. Wild Shot, owned by Calumet Farm and trained by Rusty Arnold, has done little wrong with a second-out maiden win and top four placings behind champion Classic Empire and McCraken in his three starts since. Owned by Lael Stables, No Dozing was the 4-1 second choice in the Sam F. Davis. However, he ran a very flat race, and trainer Arnaud Delacour has little explanation for why he ran so poorly.
Stakes winner The Money Monster, allowance winners Tale of Silence and Basha, and the maiden Zion Valley round out the field.
Carded as the 11th race on the Saturday card, post time for the Tampa Bay Derby is approximately 5:27 pm ET.