Three of the top four finishers of last month's Sam F. Davis are back for the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, but it's a Todd Pletcher trained horse -- go figure -- making his stakes debut who will likely be favored.
Stonestreet Stables' and George Bolton's Spring Hill Farm has jumped into the Triple Crown picture after beginning his career with two impressive, front-running victories at Gulfstream Park, and the son of Smart Strike figures to be heavily backed in the March 10 Tampa Bay Derby. The 1 1/16-mile event is the premier event at Tampa Bay Downs, which runs through May 6. A field of 12 was drawn, with post time scheduled for 5:28 p.m. EST.
The $210,000 first-place share of the Tampa Bay Derby will likely be good enough to earn the winner a spot into the May 5 Kentucky Derby. Many of the top contenders already have a good start on graded earnings, but Spring Hill Farm will be looking to take his first step toward the Triple Crown with an on-the-board finish.
Bred in Virginia by the late Edward P. Evans and named after the prominent owner/breeder's farm, Spring Hill Farm was a May 12 foal and did not race as a juvenile, but has shown plenty of talent since the season began. The dark bay/brown colt broke his maiden at first asking Jan. 14, romping by 6 1/4 lengths going seven furlongs. He went wire-to-wire again in an optional claimer less than a month later going a mile on the sloppy track at Gulfstream, prompting Pletcher to point him toward his first try at two turns.
Spring Hill Farm has worked twice since his last race at Palm Meadows, most recently firing a five-furlong bullet in 1:00 4/5 on March 4. Javier Castellano will have the mount.
Class will certainly be a test for Spring Hill Farm, as he will face the main players from the Sam Davis, as well as the graded stakes-placed Take Charge Indy. Mrs. John Magnier and Michael Tabor's Battle Hardened won the Sam Davis as a maiden, carving out an ideal trip under Julien Leparoux to pull off the minor upset. The Giant's Causeway colt defeated Prospective by 1 1/4 lengths, while Reveron was a nose behind, and Ravelo's Boy was another nose further back. Of those, only Reveron will not return for the Tampa Bay Derby.
Battle Hardened, trained by Eddie Kenneally, has already made three route starts in his brief career, finishing second in the others as a juvenile. He has come back to work three times at Palm Meadows since the Sam Davis. Leparoux will be aboard once again.
John Oxley's Prospective had a wide trip in the Sam Davis but finished well to grab second-place money, which was good for $40,000 of graded earnings. Except for his poor run in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November, the Malibu Moon colt has been consistent in his six starts, finishing first or second five times. He won the Grey Stakes at Woodbine in October, one start after breaking his maiden on the Polytrack, and opened up his 3-year-old season with a come-from-behind victory in the local Pasco Stakes at seven furlongs.
Prospective is trained by John Oxley, who will keep regular rider Luis Contreras in the irons when breaking from the rail. The colt, bred by Spendthrift Farm and out of the Awesome Again mare Spirited Away, was a $250,000 yearling purchase.
Ravelo's Boy, also based at Calder, will already be making the 13th start of his career.
Many are expecting this to be the breakthrough race for Take Charge Indy, who finished second in a Gulfstream optional claimer Jan. 29 in his season debut. The Pat Byrne trainee was second in the Arlington-Washington Futurity as a juvenile but finished off the board in a pair of grade I events, including a fifth-place effort in the BC Juvenile.
Take Charge Indy, to be ridden by Calvin Borel, worked a bullet four furlongs in :47 3/5 March 4 at Palm Meadows.
Trainer Dale Romans is hopeful for Cozzetti even though the colt finished eighth in the CashCall Futurity in California to end last season and was fourth in the Kitten's Joy Stakes on the Gulfstream Park turf Jan. 21. The son of Cozzene broke his maiden by five lengths in his only start on dirt last fall at Churchill.
Also in the lineup are Golden Ticket, a Ken McPeek trainee who broke his maiden last out in his sixth try; Fox Rules, the Sam Davis sixth-place finisher; and Chief Energy, making his 3-year-old debut.