This year's edition of the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) looks fairly competitive. A field of twelve is expected to line up, each seeking qualifying points for their spot in the Kentucky Derby in May. The winner of this race will receive 50 points to his name.
CANDY MAN ROCKET for trainer Bill Mott heads this field of probables. He is the son of CANDY RIDE out of KENNY LANE by FORESTRY. He was last seen capturing the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) last month on this very surface. He did not earn much of a high of a speed figure for that effort, but it was enough to secure the victory. He did appear to shorten stride a little bit at the end. But being the son of classic-distance Grade 1 winner CANDY RIDE, distance shouldn't be a persistent issue. Perhaps he struck the front too soon in his last race?
CANDY MAN ROCKET registered a bullet work on Feb 28th at Payson Park Training Center, going 4F in :48.60, the best of 36 works at that distance. One week prior, he delivered a 4F work which was the 3rd best of 62 that day — suggesting he exited the Sam F. Stakes in good order and with good energy.
Note that last year's Tampa Bay Derby winner KING GUILLERMO scored a 110 Equibase figure winning the race. The year before that, TACITUS won it with a 108. Well, for CANDY MAN ROCKET to be competitive he'll want to improve his last-out 90 speed figure. He will be rematched with a few familiar foes: BOCA BOY, HIDDEN STASH.
Plus, there are eight horses coming off victories of their own right: KING OF DREAMS, MY LIBERTY, UNBRIDLED HONOR, PROMISE KEEPER, SUPER STRONG, HELLO HOT ROD, and HELIUM.
One interesting competitor is HELIUM from the Mark Casse barn. HELIUM is 2-for-2 coming into his race. He earned a 93 Equibase figure which is three points better than CANDY MAN ROCKET's. But both HELIUM's wins were going seven furlongs at WOODBINE. He's tasked with transferring his form to the Tampa Bay track while passing the two turn test for the first time. Will distance be a problem? Well, consider his damsire Thunder Gulch was ultra competitive at three, winning both the KY Derby and Belmont in 1995; it's in HELIUM'S blood to perform over longer distances.
The Tampa Bay Derby has had its share of longshot winners. Aside from the two horses we discussed, not much separates the remainder of the field, as they are lightly raced and coming off maiden victories from different tracks. Others have graded stakes experience, but are trying to return to winning form. It's a competitive bunch! Each horse warrants a good look.