Saturday's $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) is slated to have nine colts competing for qualification points towards entrance into the Run for the Roses, more commonly known as the Kentucky Derby, which is run in the first weekend of May.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby point system will award 50, 20, 10 and five points to the top four finishers. The contest will be run on dirt at the distance of 1-1/16th miles.
Heading the field will be heavily favored No. 6 Verrazano, undefeated in two starts and making his stakes debut. Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, Verrazano won his contests by a combined 24 lengths and opens at odds of 4-5.
It would not surprise me if Verrazano's odds are even lower come post time with anything short of victory coming as a major shocker. I see this race boiling down to a battle for second and third.
Opening at second choice is No. 5 Dynamic Sky (4-1), trained by Mark Casse and getting a positive rider switch from Luis Contreras to the wildly successful Joel Rosario.
Unfortunately for Dynamic Sky, unless Rosario has a trick up his sleeve, his chances for grabbing second will depend on the pace breaking down and working out a trip while coming from behind.
A more compelling choice for second is No.9 Falling Sky (10-1), breaking from the extreme outside and a winner of two straight. His last victory came in the Sam F. Davis stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs while defeating the second favorite Dynamic Sky.
The outside post will provide Falling Sky's jockey Victor Espinosa a clear scope of the field, allowing him to set up shop as he sees fit. Falling Sky is trained by John Terranova.
No. 4 Java's War (12-1) is a prime candidate for grabbing the second or third spots. Although he is not known for early speed, his inside post will allow jockey Willie Martinez the opportunity to save ground.
An interesting contender for second is No. 2 Purple Egg (10-1). Trained by Jane Cibelli and ridden by Elvis Trujillo, Purple Egg is undefeated in three starts by a combined 12 lengths. His last victory came at Tampa Bay Downs in the $75k Inaugural Stakes.
Ironically, Purple Egg defeated Falling Sky in that contest. However, Purple Egg will have the burden of proof in showing he can handle the mile and 1/16th (his longest race was at six furlongs).
Finally, one with a puncher's chance of finishing in the money is long shot No.1 Eton Blue (20-1), trained by Nick Zito and ridden by Joe Bravo.
Eton Blue finished a distant second (16-1/4 lengths) behind Verrazano in his last start. However, he gets the rail for his second straight start and Bravo for his fourth, so they have experience to work with. I would not rule them out underneath.
My prediction for the Tampa Bay Derby is Verrazano winning, followed by the group of (in no particular order) Eton Blue, Purple Egg, Java's War, Dynamic Sky and Falling Sky to round out the top three positions.
Despite Verrazano being a slam-dunk likely winner, the trifecta and superfecta possibilities are potentially lucrative with some live bombs underneath.
Enjoy the race and good luck!
Tampa Bay Derby field:
No.1 Eton Blue (20-1)
No.2 Purple Egg (10-1)
No.3 Honorable Dillon (6-1)
No.4 Java's War (12-1)
No.5 Dynamic Sky (4-1)
No.6 Verrazano (4-5)
No.7 Offlee Fast (30-1)
No.8 Park City (12-1)
No. 9 Falling Sky (10-1)