03/07/2015 7:31PM

Carpe Diem wins big in Tampa Bay Derby

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OLDSMAR, Fla. – Carpe Diem entrenched himself as one of the Kentucky Derby favorites with an emphatic five-length victory Saturday in the 35th running of the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, the annual marquee race at Tampa Bay Downs.

With John Velazquez giving a textbook ride, Carpe Diem drew off with flair in making his 3-year-old debut a highly successful one. The chestnut Giant’s Causeway colt, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his final start at 2, is owned in partnership by Stonestreet Stables and WinStar Farm. He is based at the Palm Beach Downs training center with trainer Todd Pletcher.

“Wow,” said Elliott Walden, president of WinStar. “You’re hopeful when they leave out of their 2-year-old year that they come back like this. Everybody who’s been watching him train has been saying he’s the best horse in training in Florida, so it was great to see him put it together like that.”

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

Carpe Diem returned $4 as favorite in a field of eight 3-year-olds when finishing the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43.60 over a fast track. Ami’s Flatter, a 13-1 shot, finished second, another 2 1/2 lengths before Divining Rod. Danzig Moon was five more lengths back in fourth in a spread-out field, while Ocean Knight, the 17-10 second choice, faded badly to finish seventh.

Walden said Carpe Diem most likely will have his final prep toward the May 2 Kentucky Derby in the April 4 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, where the colt won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity last fall.

The 1 1/16-mile race carries 85 eligibility points toward the May 2 Kentucky Derby, with 50 to the winner and 20 to the runner-up.

On a warm, overcast afternoon, and over a fast track, Divining Rod took the early lead from his rail post while pressured from the outside by My Johnny Be Good. Meanwhile, Velazquez had Carpe Diem tucked in an ideal spot from just behind those two, and down the backstretch, he eased out his mount to have clear sailing into the far turn.

Down the stretch, as Carpe Diem surged away, Velazquez gave his mount a smack with a right-handed whip, then three more with the left, although the issue never was in doubt. The colt galloped out far ahead of the opposition.

Perhaps the only flaw from Carpe Diem was his pre-race behavior. He was a bit rancorous leaving the paddock for the post parade, then was reluctant to load in the starting gate, with Velazquez having to remount.

“I’m not worried about that at all,” said Walden. “He’s just a little headstrong. He’s actually a classy colt. He’s got so much talent and such a fluid stride.”

Carpe Diem was purchased by Stonestreet and WinStar for $1.6 million at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales 2-year-olds in training sale in March 2014. In the latest Kentucky Derby futures pool offered Feb. 27-March 1 by Churchill Downs, he closed as the 10-1 third choice among the 23 individual interests.

Two horses have come out of the Tampa Bay Derby in recent years to win the Kentucky Derby: Street Sense (2007) and Super Saver (2010). WinStar, now owned solely by Kenny Troutt, was the owner of Super Saver, who gave Pletcher his only Kentucky Derby victory from 40 starters.

The Tampa Bay Derby victory was the third for Pletcher, who previously won with Limehouse (2004) and Verrazano (2013). He watched this race via simulcast from Gulfstream Park.

After the top four, the order was Great Stuff, Moonlight Bandit, Ocean Knight, and Johnny Be Good. Souper Colossal was scratched earlier in the week because of a mild fever.

The $2 exacta (3-4) paid $40.40, the $1 trifecta (3-4-1) returned $73.60, and the 10-cent superfecta (3-4-1-9) was worth $32.06.

Velazquez, the Hall of Famer who is the all-time earnings leader among jockeys, went 3 for 4 in stakes here Saturday, winning the Challenger Stakes on General a Rod and the Grade 3 Hillsborough Stakes with Stephanie’s Kitten. All three were favorites.

Anna Villafane More than 1 year ago
Is Dortmund a Santa Anita wonder boy? Will Carpe Diem move forward and eventually stretch out to Derby distance? Is Upstart the real deal? Is there a Mine that Bird out there waiting in the wings?
Billy Spathanas More than 1 year ago
Souper Colossal , if he can make it in gets the money.....
Eric Singer More than 1 year ago
Dortmund has already won at Churchill.
Ken Herlich More than 1 year ago
I wonder if Ocean Knight came out of the race in good order I do not think he bounced
StockPicker More than 1 year ago
Right now Dortmund is the best I have seen to date although as we all know that could change in a hurry
StockPicker More than 1 year ago
Nice win but he beat nobody. Will see when the waters get a bit deeper.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
PLETCHER or BAFFERT is the latter a better derby trainer ..although pletcher has done well when running the right horse for the distance .he did win with SUPER SAVER and run 2nd with INVISIBLE INK and BLUEGRASS CAT.3rd with IMPEACHMENT. 4th with MORE THAN READY and LIMEHOUSE. The problem is he will run any horse that qualifies regardless of whether the horse has distance limitations or not .see VEREZZANO ,UNCLE MO,TRIPPI..BAFFERT will only run them in the derby if they fit.see Winners SILVER CHARM, REAL QUIET, WAR EMBLEM..2nds CARVONIER, PIONEER OF THE NILE, BODEMEISTER.
Mike Rutledge More than 1 year ago
Even tho it was a comeback race I have the feeling that Carpe Diem will regress some next out but probably not enough to lose. He ran a huge race this time and if he improves that will make him even scarier than he already is.
Rosemarie Cola More than 1 year ago
Congratz to the connections of this fine colt and also to one of my favorite NJ riders Chuck C Lopez. Now I am worried about my Derby horses.!
Rhonda More than 1 year ago
Can't compare times with other tracks, look at the Beyer figure. CD was close to all time Tampa track record
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Nice race, but am not going to discard the Oaklawn and Fair Grounds entrants.
Alex T More than 1 year ago
no question about it at this moment in time Carpe Diem and Upstart are the 2 "big guns" representing the east coast.........