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Pletcher to Send Out Pair in Wide-Open Tampa Bay Derby

Tapit Trice Ready for Stakes Race Debut

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher looks to extend his record to six victories in the Tampa Bay Derby when he enters lightly raced Tapit Trice and Shesterkin for the $400,000 Grade 3 race on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Fla.

Tapit Trice broke his maiden in mid-December at Aqueduct in New York and followed that up with an eight-length victory in a 1-mile Allowance race at Gulfstream Park in Florida on Feb. 4. Shesterkin was second in that race after breaking his maiden in his debut – a 7-furlong race at Gulfstream on Dec. 31.

Todd Pletcher the trainer of Pioneer of Medina
Todd Pletcher the trainer of Pioneer of Medina - Andy Lyons/Getty Images/AFP

The winner at Tampa Bay Downs will receive 50 points for the Kentucky Derby while the second place gains 20, followed by 15-10-5. The 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby is scheduled to go off as Race 11 at 5:15 p.m. ET if you are online gambling.

The two Pletcher trainees will face a field filled with seven runners who went to the post in the Grade 3 Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 11. Sam Davis runner-up Groveland leads that group along with Classic Car Wash (third), Classic Legacy (fourth) and speedy Zydeceaux (fifth).

Opportunity in Tampa Bay

With other high-profile colts opting for different races, the Tampa Bay Derby presents a chance for some promising horses to step up and take a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

Sam Davis winner Litigate, another Pletcher horse, is scheduled to go in the Louisiana Derby on March 25 and Sam Davis favorite Dubyuhnell won’t be in the Tampa Bay Derby field, but there is still plenty of talent left.

Tapit Trice, a son of Tapit and Danzatrice, gets a chance to show his talent on a bigger stage after a sharp workout of 49.1 seconds for four furlongs on March 4. Jockey Luis Saez will likely look for a good stalking position behind the speed as the morning-line favorite at 8-5 in the horse racing odds.

Zydeceaux, who won the 7-furlong Pasco Stakes at Tampa in mid-January, had the lead near the top of the stretch in the Sam Davis and will break from the 11-hole Saturday. Prairie Hawk (12) will probably try to follow Zydeceaux to the lead after a poor trip (ninth) in the Sam Davis and Shesterkin could show speed along with Dreaming of Kona (9).

Trainer Eoin Harty’s Groveland (4) saved ground and battled his way to second in the Sam Davis, 1½ lengths ahead of Classic Car Wash (2). Both could improve along with trainer Bill Mott’s Classic Legacy (3), who is second off the layoff and was just a head behind Classic Car Wash in the Sam Davis.

Then there’s Lord Miles (1), who was a disappointing sixth in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream after an awkward start. The son of Curlin could rebound and benefit from a fast pace along with Champions Dream (10), trainer Mark Casse’s colt that was bumped and settled for 11th in the Sam Davis.

It’s anybody’s race, but we think Tapit Trice could be the real deal if you are betting online. Bet 6 on top of 1 and 3 in exactas, trifectas and perhaps box the three. You should also use the 2, 4, 10 and 12 underneath in bigger tickets.

Forte Does Not Disappoint

Irad Ortiz Jr a board Forte ( far left #4) runs to victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile during the 2022 Breeders Cup at Keeneland Race Course on November 04, 2022 in Lexington, Kentucky
Irad Ortiz Jr a board Forte ( far left #4) runs to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile during the 2022 Breeders Cup at Keeneland Race Course on November 04, 2022 in Lexington, Kentucky – Andy Lyons/Getty Images/AFP

Breeder’s Cup Juvenile champion Forte rolled to an easy victory in his 2023 debut at the Fountain of Youth Stakes last Saturday at Gulfstream and took over the points lead for the Kentucky Derby.

Forte has 90 points, followed by San Felipe winner Practical Move (60) and Rebel Stakes champ Confidence Game (57). Risen Star winner Angel of Empire and Raise Cain, who won the Gotham Stakes last weekend, are next with 54 points and Fountain of Youth runner-up Rocket Can has 40.

The Fountain of Youth set up perfectly for Forte, who sat comfortably behind the speed and unleashed his rally wide around the final turn for a 4½-length victory.

“We carefully laid out a plan,” Pletcher told reporters. “We thought that we had a program that put him in a position to be ready to run while still having room for improvement and room to continue to develop. I think we were able to accomplish that.”

Forte will likely make one more start before the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. That is expected to be at Gulfstream on April 1 in the Florida Derby in horse racing news.

Arabian Knight Training

Forte is the favorite to win on the first Saturday in May in the latest Kentucky Derby odds at +550 but lightly raced Arabian Knight is a clear second at +900.

Arabian Knight has been moved to trainer Tim Yakteen’s barn due to the ongoing suspension of Bob Baffert by Churchill Downs and had a solid five-furlong workout on March 4 (59.2 seconds) before breezing 1:13.6 over six furlongs on March 9. Arabian Knight, who could not earn Derby points while in Baffert’s barn despite winning the Southwest Stakes on Jan. 28 at Oaklawn in Arkansas, may be ready for the Santa Anita Derby on April 8.

National Treasure, third in the BC Juvenile, has been moved from Baffert to Yakteen but bruised a foot in the San Felipe last weekend while finishing seventh. It’s possible National Treasure could still make one more start and earn points for the Derby.

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