There are two decided favorites in Saturday’s $350,000 Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby – Carpe Diem and Ocean Knight. Both horses look extremely tough on paper and are the only contenders in the field to have won graded stakes. That said, they each come into the Tampa Bay Derby with a couple of question marks, which could potentially make them vulnerable.
Let’s start with Carpe Diem. He hasn’t been seen since finishing second behind Texas Red in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November. Prior to that, Carpe Diem took down the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. In each of his three career races, he’s shown varying racing styles, having won in front-running style in his first career race, while closing from off the pace in the Breeders’ Cup.
On the positive side for Carpe Diem, he should be fresh coming in off the layoff for trainer Todd Pletcher. Pletcher has won this race twice, most recently in 2013 with Verrazano. On the flip side, there’s no telling what we’re going to get from a horse who has been missing in action for four months. He might have been right at the top of last year’s two-year-old class but that doesn’t mean he’s going to jump right back into action at that same level. I like Carpe Diem but not enough to play him on top at what will certainly be a very short price.
Ocean Knight comes in to the Tampa Bay Derby off of a victory in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at this track. What was most impressive about the win was that he was wide nearly the whole way around and still had enough in the tank to surge past a leader no one else seemed to be gaining ground on. The only knock on this horse is that he’ll have to be as good, if not better, here to win a race that seems deeper in talent than the Sam Davis. If he takes another step forward, he can certainly win though.
Where we’re really going to make money in the Tampa Bay Derby is with my sleeper pick, Great Stuff. Listed at 20-1 on the morning line, this lightly raced son of Quality Road has all the looks of an improving horse. In each of his races coming in, he’s shown a late kick that was extremely impressive. He has had some great pace setups to run into but he hasn’t gotten there yet. But with a little more ground to cover in this 1 1/16-mile race, I think he can get there. He’ll be overlooked as the lone maiden in this race but I trust the savvy of trainer Ian Wilkes and I think he should get another favorable pace setup here, as well.
Speaking of pace, Divining Rod gets the rail after nearly wiring the field in the Sam F. Davis and I would expect a similar approach from him in the Tampa Bay Derby. However, he might very likely face pace pressure from rivals Ami’s Flatter (who adds blinkers), My Johnny Be Good, and perhaps even Carpe Diem.
With all of that in mind, I like the chances of the speed burning itself out on the lead. If Divining Rod is allowed to run on a loose lead, he’ll again be dangerous. If my pace projections are anywhere near accurate though, I love the chances of Great Stuff rallying late and pulling off the upset.
Selections: #7 Great Stuff – #2 Ocean Knight – #1 Divining Rod – #3 Carpe Diem