Tampa Bay Downs will be the focus of the horse-racing world Saturday with Kentucky Derby qualifying points on the line in the $400,000 Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, which is one of five major stakes races on the Gulf Coast menu.
The Tampa Bay Derby has produced Kentucky Derby winners in Street Sense (2007) and Super Saver (2011) but has had only one horse hit the board on the first Saturday in May since 2012.
Classic Causeway, the wire-to-wire winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes, should be the one to catch in his return trip to Tampa Bay. Burning Roma (2001) and Destin (2016) are the only horses this century to sweep Tampa’s premier 3-year-old races.
Todd Pletcher, who has won the Tampa Bay Derby a record five times (2004, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017), will saddle Major General, who will be making his first start since Sept. 18. Major General made it 2-for-2 lifetime his last time out in the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs, which was run 175 days before Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby. That’s a long layoff, but since 2013, Pletcher’s runners have won 27% of races in such situations (returning from at least 175 days off in a stakes race), 9% higher than his overall stakes win rate in the span.
Here are some numbers from Tampa Bay Downs stakes races during the current racing season (all statistics courtesy of Betmix):
Favorites: 40.0% wins, 66.6% top 3
Average $2 winning payout: $10.54
Top jockeys: Irad Ortiz Jr. (3-for-4, 75%), Samy Camacho (3-for-12, 25%)
Top trainer: Ralph Nicks (2-for-4, 50%)
More than 850 horseplayers qualified in Xpressbet’s free weekly “Beat the Host” competition and will compete in Saturday’s $15,000 final round. Terry O’Brien was the only contestant to sweep the host each of the eight contest weeks, earning a $6,500 payday … Gulfstream Park jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., the nation’s leading pilot, will be back in action this weekend after serving a five-day suspension for careless riding. That’s likely to have major implications on the tote board. Luis Saez was America’s hottest rider last week with Ortiz missing most of the action at Gulfstream.
Friday weekend firestarter
Let’s get the gambling weekend off to a fast start on Friday. In Santa Anita’s Race 4, I’m excited to see filly Micro Share return. She was the morning workmate of Forbidden Kingdom in recent weeks and actually outworked her male counterpart prior to him romping in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes and becoming one of the midseason favorites for the Kentucky Derby. She has not started since a distant runner-up to rising star Adare Manor in January. She’ll be tough to beat Friday and a good single in multi-race bets.
1/ST BET app top handicapping tracks of the week
The free 1/ST BET app allows you to apply millions of data points across dozens of handicapping factors in mere seconds and immediately place your wagers. Here’s where the artificial intelligence was most dialed-in last week by win percentage:
— Penn National: 50%
— Mahoning Valley: 41%
— Aqueduct: 38%
— Delta Downs: 38%
— Sam Houston: 36%
Tracks with most-reliable favorites last week (by win pct.)
— Penn National: 58%
— Sam Houston: 54%
— Laurel Park: 52%
— Tampa Bay Downs: 51%
— Santa Anita: 50%
Tracks that were long-shot havens last week (winners at 10-1 odds or higher)
— Delta Downs: 7
— Fair Grounds: 6
— Charles Town: 5
— Fonner Park: 5
— Turfway Park: 5
Hot jockeys last week
— Dylan Davis (7-for-16, 44%), Aqueduct
— Luis Saez (15-for-40, 38%), Gulfstream
— Tim Thorton (7-for-22, 32%), Delta Downs
— Tommy Pompell (6-for-18, 33%), Delta Downs
— Jamie Rodriguez (7-for-23, 30%), Laurel Park
Hot trainers last week
— Wesley Ward (5-for-7, 71%), Turfway/Gulfstream/Mahoning Valley
— Chad Brown (6-for-9, 67%), Gulfstream/Aqueduct/Tampa Bay Downs
— Antonio Sano (6-for-14, 43%), Gulfstream
— Anthony Farrior (9-for-23, 39%), Laurel/Charles Town
— Saffie Joseph Jr. (6-for-20, 30%), Gulfstream/Aqueduct
March means money
1/ST BET and Xpressbet are giving away $20,000 during a month-long sweepstakes. To participate, simply make wagers on either platform and earn entries into random drawings for each bet you make. Prizes will be drawn and announced at the end of March.