OLDSMAR, Fla. -- On paper, Saturday's $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby seems to set up well for Brody's Cause. The speedsters Awesome Banner, Morning Fire, Riker, and Tale of S'avall should ensure a lively pace in the 1-1/16-mile test, and it will be up to the late-running Brody's Cause to catch them in the stretch.
That's the plan at least, but it won't be easy. The 36th running of the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby drew a strong field of 10 3-year-olds, all gunning for the 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to this race's top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 basis. The Tampa Bay Derby has proven to be a productive Kentucky Derby prep race, with 2007 winner Street Sense going on to wear the roses at Churchill Downs and Super Saver, the third-place finisher in 2010, also scoring on the first Saturday in May.
Brody's Cause is among four graded stakes winners in the field, but he stands alone as the only Grade 1 winner. Trainer Dale Romans is hoping that the son of Giant's Causeway can further separate himself from the other Kentucky Derby aspirants with a strong performance Saturday in his first start of the year.
"He's doing well, and it's time to get going," Romans said. "Every step along the way now is important. The Tampa Bay Derby is a great race in its own right, and we'd love to win it.
"He's a horse that has all the right parts in the all the right places and has always done everything the way you'd want him to do it. We gave him a little freshening. We never took him off the track, we just took it easy on him after the Breeders' Cup. We've cranked him up, and he seems like he's ready for his 3-year-old campaign."
The Tampa Bay Derby is the highlight of the richest card in the 90-year history of Tampa Bay Downs, with the 12-race program offering $1.07 million in purses. The card features a track-record $850,000 in stakes purses, with the main event complemented by the Grade 2 Hillsborough Stakes, a turf route for older fillies and mares; the Grade 3 Florida Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies on grass; and the $100,000 Challenger Stakes, a route for older horses on the main track.
First post is 12:23 p.m. Eastern, with the Derby carded as the 11th race at 5:24.
Brody's Cause hasn't raced since finishing a rallying third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Keeneland on Oct. 31, when he was beaten 2-3/4 lengths by champion 2-year-old male Nyquist. Prior to that, Brody's Cause, a $350,000 yearling purchase for the Albaugh Family Stable, had closed with a rush to win the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity by one length at Keeneland on Oct. 3.
Corey Lanerie rode Brody's Cause in each of those races and retains the mount from post 8.
The field includes the top three finishers from the local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 13, which also covered 1-1/16 miles. Destin drew clear down the stretch in that race to score by 2-1/4 lengths over Rafting, with the pacesetting Morning Fire fading to third, beaten 5-3/4 lengths.
Destin, another son of Giant's Causeway, is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has won the Tampa Bay Derby a record three times, including last year with Carpe Diem. Pletcher has a second entrant this year in Outwork, an Uncle Mo colt who won his maiden by 4-1/4 lengths here Feb. 13 and will be making his stakes debut.
Among the field's more-seasoned runners are Riker, who won the Grade 3 Grey Stakes last fall before finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, where he set the early pace, and Awesome Banner, who won the Grade 2 Swale Stakes on Jan. 30 but flunked his first two-turn test, setting the pace and fading to a distant fifth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 27. Economic Model, who finished second in the Swale for trainer Chad Brown, returns here for his first two-turn race.
Riker is a new addition to trainer Mark Casse's barn after being trained last year by Nick Gonzalez.
"We just got him about three weeks ago," Casse said. "We've worked him three times on the dirt. I'd say on a scale of 1 to 10, he's training at a 10, so we're excited."
Fred Brei, whose Jacks or Better Farm owns Awesome Banner, said he's hoping to see his speedster expend less energy early in the Tampa Bay Derby.
"I believe the horse can go long," Brei said. "I believe in the Fountain of Youth, he was cranked coming off of those sprints, and he went too fast, and all that did was set it up for everybody else. Hopefully, he won't do the same thing again."
Brown said he's expecting a solid effort from Economic Model, who has made only two starts.
"We're looking forward to finally getting the horse around two turns," he said. "The question mark is whether he can handle Tampa's main track. He's never been on it, but the horse has been training extremely well, and I'm excited to see what he's going to do."
Completing the field is the impressive last-out maiden winner Star Hill.