The Road to the Kentucky Derby heads south this Saturday to Tampa Bay Downs, which hosts the $400,000, Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.
In addition to the lucrative purse, this 1 1/16-mile race has a total of 100 Derby qualifying points up for grabs, with 50 going to the Winner, 20 to 2nd, 15 to 3rd, 10 to 4th, and 5 to 5th.
The Tampa Bay Derby was first held in 1981, and has always been contested at 1 1/16 miles. It was a Grade 3 event from 1984 to 1989, and returned to Grade 3 status in 2002. In 2011, it was upgraded to a Grade 2.
Here’s a look back at some of the most notable Tampa Bay Derby Winners.
STREET SENSE (2007) He entered 2007 Derby trail with history against him. The previous November, he Won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by 10 lengths. At the time, no horse had Won both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby. With that in mind, many observers were skeptical that STREET SENSE could Win the Derby, despite the fact that his impressive Juvenile Win came at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Carl Nafzger, who previously Won the Derby in 1990 with UNBRIDLED, decided to begin the 3-year-old campaign of STREET SENSE in the Tampa Bay Derby. Six horses lined up against him that day, but only one looked like a serious threat on paper. ANY GIVEN SATURDAY Won the Sam F. Davis Stakes by 2 ¾ lengths as the favorite in his prior start, and two back was 2nd in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. The Todd Pletcher trainee went off as the 7-10 favorite, while STREET SENSE was the 6-5 second choice. No one else in the race went off at less than 20-1 odds.
STREET SENSE sat chilly in 4th, about seven lengths off the leaders through a half-mile. As the field rounded the far turn, ANY GIVEN SATURDAY made his move after the pacesetters, just as jockey Calvin Borel began to ask the 2-year-old Champion for run at the same point. Entering the stretch, STREET SENSE came up the rail and looked ready to pull away, but ANY GIVEN SATURDAY fought back on the outside and would not relinquish control easily. The two dueled down the stretch in an epic battle, but STREET SENSE ultimately prevailed by a nose. His time of 1:43.11 for 1 1/16 miles established a new track record.
Despite a 2nd-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes next out, and the so-called Juvenile Jinx hanging over him, STREET SENSE was the slight 5-1 Post Time favorite in the Derby. He came from 19 ½ lengths back to win by 2 ½ lengths, saving every bit of ground until Calvin Bo-Rail wheeled him out at the top of the stretch to glide past HARD SPUN. Thus becoming the first horse to complete the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile–Kentucky Derby double.
TAPWRIT (2017) With a Stakes Win and a Stakes runner-up to his credit, TAPWRIT had the look of a 3-year-old improving at the right time entering the 2017 Tampa Bay Derby. The gray Todd Pletcher colt Won the Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park in December and followed that performance with a 2nd-place finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, beaten 1 ½ lengths by favored McCRACKEN. Based on those races, TAPWRIT was the 1-1 Favorite in the 10-horse Tampa Bay Derby.
Breaking from Post Position five, TAPWRIT briefly raced wide but then made his way to the inside and rated towards the back of the pack. As the field rounded the far turn, Jose Ortiz asked his mount for run (between horses), and TAPWRIT responded with authority. He overwhelmed early leader STATE OF HONOR and sprinted clear in the stretch to Win by 4 ½ lengths.
Although he disappointed in his next two starts, including a 6th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby with a rough trip, TAPWRIT bounced back in a big way in the Belmont Stakes. He chased down pacesetter IRISH WAR CRY and prevailed by two lengths, becoming only the second Tampa Bay Derby Winner to take a Triple Crown race.
TACITUS (2019) The 2019 Tampa Bay Derby was his Stakes company debut. The gray son of TAPIT broke his Maiden at Aqueduct the previous November, Winning by a neck, and was off for several months after that race. In the Tampa Bay Derby, he went off as the 9-1 fifth choice in a field that included future Belmont Stakes Winner SIR WINSTON and eventual Grade 1 Winner WIN WIN WIN.
TACITUS rated several paths off the rail in mid-pack early on while the leaders set fast early fractions. That setup proved ripe for the Bill Mott horse, as he churned on in the stretch and pulled clear in the last sixteenth to Win by 1 ½ lengths.
TACITUS Won the Wood Memorial Stakes in his next start, and finished 3rd in the Kentucky Derby. He added on several more placings in Graded Stakes races the rest of his 3-year-old season, including runner-up efforts in the Belmont Stakes, the Jim Dandy Stakes, and the Travers Stakes. As a 4-year-old in 2020, TACITUS added another Graded Stakes Win to his résumé when he Won the Suburban Stakes at Belmont Park.