The Morning Line: Tampa Bay Derby

Battle Hardened Looks To Repeat at Tampa Bay Downs

Battle Hardened, winner of the Sam F. Davis

Welcome back to Tamp Bay Downs for the final stop on the road from Tampa to Kentucky. The $350,000 Grade 2 Stakes has come a long way over the years since its inauguration in 1981 and now proudly represents itself as a race that has played a major role for two recent Kentucky Derby winners. Things really started picking up steam in 2007 when Street Sense recorded a record winning time of 1:43.11 en route to a Kentucky Derby victory. In 2010 this prep again produced a champion when Super Saver opened up his 3-yr-old season here with a 3rd place finish before ending up in the winner’s circle in America’s biggest race.

So it’s a rewarding race for connections that played their cards right but since that is the key ingredient to winning the Kentucky Derby we’ll have to wait and see how this field of 12 crosses the wire before we make a clear-cut analysis on their chances. But in the meantime we can still look at what order they’re going to finish here. The best place to start is with previous prep at Tampa Bay Downs, the G3 Sam F. Davis where 3 of the top 4 are back to give it another run. 

Let me start by defending a horse on my Kentucky Derby radar not to mention maybe the only derby rankings with him included, Battle Hardened. There’s only one obvious fact about this horse that nobody is going to argue and that is his ability to cover some distance. After opening his career with a 4th place finish in a 6f MSW test the colt fired back with two 2nd place finishes both at no less than 1 1/16. But without a win to his name he looked to be up against it in the Sam F. Davis until he ran away with the win after driving past the leaders in the stretch. Even though he only won by one and a quarter length the reason I describe his win as “running away” is because he wasn’t ready to stop when they crossed the wire. He looked like he could keep going and going.

There has been much discussion on the Sam F. Davis field more specifically that it lacked the fire power of some of the other early Kentucky Derby preps. I won’t totally dispute that but until I see otherwise Battle Hardened remains on my radar. I’m still not sure what I thought I saw that day but I’m not swaying away from it just yet. Trained by Eddie Kenneally and owned by Michael Tabor winner of the 1995 Kentucky Derby with Thunder Gulch, Battle Hardened faces two pressing challengers outside of the two he beat in the Sam F. Davis – Take Charge Indy and Spring Hill Farm.

Can he do it again? My answer is yes. If not then I guess I’ll learn that it was more about what I didn’t see in the Sam F. Davis then what I thought I did. For now, I saw a lot.

Take Charge Indy reappears on the Derby Trail after trainer Patrick Byrne elected to open up his 3-yr-old campaign against the highly regarded El Padrino in 1 1/16 mile Allowance at Gulfstream in January. He may not have won but 2nd place is saying a lot considering how El Padrino responded to the non-graded prep – 1st in the Risen Star. Couple this factor with his recent bullet at Palm Meadows, 4f in 47.66, and that leads to the conclusion that he’s ready to win his first graded stakes race.

Past 3 Graded Stakes: 5th Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, 4th Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity, 2nd Arlington-Washington Futurity.

Another big advantage he has in his corner is veteran rider and Kentucky Derby champion Calvin Borel. Borel first took over the reins his last time out and considering his experience he very well may see something in this colt. As it is on the Kentucky Derby trail winning isn’t everything until we get to the first Saturday in May but this colt definitely needs to get a taste of it sooner rather than later because the latter maybe after May 5th. By A.P. Indy and Take Charge Lady this colt has got a lot of upside which could easily show itself in the Tampa Bay Derby.

And then there’s Todd Pletcher, winner of 3 different Kentucky Derby Preps, who enters another new face to the Kentucky Derby trail with Spring Hill Farm. Owned by George Bolton and Stonestreet Stables, Spring Hill Farm is a horse that is fast tracking to the first Saturday in May. To date, he has yet to run in a single graded stakes but if things play out the way Todd Pletcher expects, a win in the Tampa Baby Derby will score a $210,000 share of the purse and leap-frog him into the thick of things on the graded stakes earnings list.

Spring Hill Farm was held back from racing as a 2-yr-old before making his debut in a 7f MSW in January. The win led to another, an Allowance also at Gulfstream Park. One can only assume that under the tutelage of Todd Pletcher Spring Hill Farm is clearly progressing in distance and should have no problems extending himself the extra 1/16 of a mile. However, his first two wins came with him leading at the opening quarter so it’s going to be interesting to see how Javier Castellano positions this horse to win. Win in front of a speedy pace or is he ready to relax in traffic and score from off the pace?

Prospective and Ravelo’s Boy, who finished 2nd and 4th in the Sam F Davis respectfully, enter back at Tampa Bay Downs with something to prove. Between the two I expect to see a lot more out of Prospective due to his tested class and recent performances here at Tampa Bay Downs. After finishing a disappointing 13th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile the Mark Casse trained colt opened back up with a nice win at Tampa Bay in the 7f Pasco. The Sam F. Davis was a solid effort but not enough to defeat Battle Hardened. Seeing him open at 8-1 is rather surprising because he is legitimate. His only problem: The Rail. It’s a tough place to start so I’m weary of his chances to score from there.

A side note on this colt is that he is owned by John Oxley, winner of the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos, the 2nd fastest Kentucky Derby win of all time behind Secretariat at 1:59.40. (1:59.97)

Rounding out the field is a lesser known but possible player in the 2012 Kentucky Derby field – Cozzetti. Outside of his recent 5f bullet at Gulfstream, which also ranked the fastest of the day on March 4, there might not be much that influences you on this colt. Trained by Dale Romans, Cozzetti will either officially enter the Kentucky Derby trail or remain out of the picture because his graded stakes earnings are very limited at this stage of the trail. But Dale Romans seems to have a good feel on this colt’s chances so don’t count out a trainers instinct.

G2 $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby | 1 1/16 Mile | Dirt | Race 11, Post Time 5:28 pm

1 Prospective  L. Contreras  M. Casse 8-1
2 Golden Ticket  M. Cruz  K. McPeek 10-1
3 Twin  D. Centeno  P. Maestre 30-1
4 Chief Energy  P. Lopez  J. Toner 12-1
5 Tell All You Know  L. Goncalves  C. Stewart 15-1
6 Cozzetti  J. Lezcano  D. Romans 12-1
7 Battle Hardened  J. Leparoux  E. Kenneally 9-2
8 Ravelo’s Boy  J. Sanchez  M. Azpurua 12-1
9 Spring Hill Farm  J. Castellano  T. Pletcher 5-2
10 Take Charge Indy  C. Borel  P. Byrne 3-1
11 Fox Rules  H. Villa-Gomez  M. Ferraro 30-1
12 Cajun Charlie  T. Hebert  B. House 15-1

The field may be loaded with surprises awaiting around the corner but I’m going to have remain on a limb and take Battle Hardened to win again. I anticipate Calvin Borel and Take Charge Indy to be in the hunt down the stretch but only with enough to hold off Spring Hill Farm and Prospective for a 2nd place finish.

It’s great to see Tampa Bay Downs secure its place on the Kentucky Derby trail. So we wish this years Tampa Bay Derby contenders all the best in their hopes to follow in the footsteps of previous runners that turned out to be the best on the first Saturday in May. We hope that all return to their barns in good condition and that we see you again on the derby trail.

Written by: Little Brink


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