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Verrazano is the heavy favorite for the Tampa Bay Derby. (Photo courtesy of Joe DiOrio)

By Ellis Starr – National Racing Analyst for Equibase

The 33rd running of the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) turns up the heat on aspiring 3-year-olds on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, no more so than on a number who have yet to earn significant points in the new scoring system. With 50 points to the winner of this race, the Tampa Bay Derby becomes an even more important race than in years past and could be the steppingstone to big things on the way to the big dance in eight weeks. Although unproven in stakes competition, Verrazano leads the field in terms of the press he’s received following powerful victories in his two career races, the most recent by the vast margin of 16 ¼ lengths. Of those proven at the stakes level, Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) winner Falling Sky has to be given the most respect, with a win on this track and a 3-for-4 record in his career to date. Beaten by a neck in the Sam F. Davis, Dynamic Sky is another rapidly improving sophomore with a significant shot at winning, as is recent Hutcheson Stakes (G3) winner Honorable Dillon. Purple Egg won the Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in December and remains undefeated in three races, but he has had setbacks in preparation for his 3-year-old debut. Eton Blue was impressive in victory in January before a second-place finish behind runaway winner Verrazano last month. Java's War won the Sunday Silence Stakes last summer and returns from a 3-month layoff so he could be a bit short of ready to tackle these. Park City and Offlee Fast try stakes competition for the first time but both ran very well recently in allowance company and be up to the task at this level.

Dynamic Sky returned to the races in January following two months off and won the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs with a then-career-best 96 Equibase Speed Figure before stepping up his game to earn a new career-best 100 figure when beaten by a neck by Falling Sky in the Sam F. Davis Stakes last month. Last fall, Dynamic Sky proved to be a top-quality athlete when he finished second in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at the 1 1/16-mile distance of the Tampa Bay Derby. A horse’s third race off a layoff can often be a peak effort and he gets the services of red-hot Joel Rosario for the first time, thus Dynamic Sky appears to be a top contender to win this race.

Honorable Dillon will run in a two-turn race for the first time in the Tampa Bay Derby, but as a son of Tapit he should have no issues with the distance. Having earned a 95 Equibase Speed Figure when winning the Hutcheson Stakes last month, Honorable Dillon also is on a pattern for improvement in his third start off a layoff. With a ground-saving inside post and probability of a much easier early pace in this longer race than he faced in the Hutcheson, Honorable Dillon could be a strong factor in the stretch to win his second graded stakes race in a row and earn 50 valuable Road to the Kentucky Derby points.


Honorable Dillon Hero
Photo courtesy of Bob Coglianese/Gulfstream Park 

Falling Sky did everything right when leading from start to finish last month in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, earning a career-best 100 Equibase Speed Figure. Being his first race around two turns he had every right to be a bit short of 100% fit, but Falling Sky certainly was impressive as he controlled the tempo and held Dynamic Sky safe by a neck at the finish line. Although he led from start to finish in the Sam F. Davis, Falling Sky may need to return to the off-the-pace running style used in his two previous victories as it probable that speedy Offlee Fast will dictate the pace. With improving to do in his second start off a layoff and with the 100 Equibase Speed Figure more than competitive with the other contenders in this race, Falling Sky might take another important 3-year-old stakes race and stamp himself a significant contender for the Kentucky Derby.

Verrazano admittedly was very impressive winning by more than 16 lengths last month and earning a field-high and career-best 103 Equibase Speed Figure, particularly since his initial win by 7 3/4 lengths also was noteworthy. However, how fast a horse runs isn’t the only key to success. Factors such as experience and the ability to take on different distances and surfaces come into play over a horse’s 3-year-old campaign. For example, Verrazano tries two turns for the first time in the Tampa Bay Derby, whereas four of his opponents already have shown they can run well at the distance and three other entrants have run well to be first or second on the Tampa Bay Downs main track. Expected to be the prohibitive favorite based on the impressiveness of those two wins, there’s little doubt Verrazano has the physical ability to remain unbeaten, but just the same from a betting perspective there’s little reason to wager on a horse doing something for the first time at very low odds.

The rest of the field (with their best representative Equibase Speed Figure): Eton Blue (88), Java’s War (94), Offlee Fast (94), Park City (91) and Purple Egg (97).

My Selections:

Dynamic Sky

Honorable Dillon

Falling Sky

$350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2)

Saturday, Tampa Bay Downs, Race 10, 5:15 p.m. EST

3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles (dirt)







Eton Blue (KY)

J. Bravo


N P Zito


Purple Egg (KY)

E. Trujillo


J Cibelli


Honorable Dillon (KY)

C.J. Lanerie


E Kenneally


Java's War (KY)

W. Martinez


K G McPeek


Dynamic Sky (ON)

J. Rosario


M E Casse


Verrazano (KY)

J.R. Velazquez


T A Pletcher


Offlee Fast (KY)

J.Z. Santana


R Pellegrini


Park City (FL)

E.S. Prado


T A Pletcher


Falling Sky  (PA)

J.L. Espinoza


J P Terranova II


Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

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