03/04/2015 2:40PM

Divining Rod could become Delacour’s dirt star

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Divining Rod, trained by Arnaud Delacour, comes from the same owners of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – Just as his former longtime boss did last year with Tonalist, trainer Arnaud Delacour wouldn’t mind breaking away from the typecast.

Delacour, who worked for six years for fellow countryman Christophe Clement, will have one of the fringe contenders in Divining Rod in the annual marquee race at Tampa Bay Downs, the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday. Like Clement, Delacour has become best known for his work with grass horses, but a big effort would put Divining Rod squarely in the picture for the 141st Kentucky Derby, a 1 1/4-mile dirt race.

Last year, Clement shook free from his turf-only reputation by winning the Belmont Stakes and other major 3-year-old dirt races with Tonalist.

Divining Rod, bred and owned by the Lael Stables of Roy and Gretchen Jackson, is among nine 3-year-olds entered to run in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, a 1 1/16-mile race worth 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner. A lightly raced Tapit colt, Divining Rod finished second here in the Jan. 31 Sam F. Davis Stakes behind one of the Tampa Bay Derby favorites, Ocean Knight, when overlooked at 28-1.

:: TAMPA BAY DERBY: Get PPs, watch Saturday’s Tampa Bay Downs card live

“He obviously has to prove he’s of the same caliber as Tonalist,” said Delacour, 39, a native of France. “He is training very well.”

The Jacksons, best known as the owners and breeders of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, “are not putting any pressure on me to make the Derby whatsoever. If it makes sense, we will consider it, but we’re a long way from there, time-wise.”

Divining Rod will be ridden again by Luis Garcia when breaking from the inside post. Carpe Diem, making his first start since finishing second in the Nov. 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, was assigned post 3 as the favorite, just outside of Ocean Knight (post 2).

From the rail, this is the field for the 35th Tampa Bay Derby: Divining Rod, Garcia; Ocean Knight, Irad Ortiz Jr.; Carpe Diem, John Velazquez; Ami’s Flatter, Luis Contreras; My Johnny Be Good, Antonio Gallardo; Souper Colossal, Joel Rosario; Great Stuff, Leandro Goncalves; Moonlight Bandit, Jose Lezcano; and Danzig Moon, Julien Leparoux.

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

Only two of the starters, Divining Rod and My Johnny Be Good, are based here at Tampa Bay Downs. The others will be shipping in from the Miami area.

Souper Colossal is cross-entered in the Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. Moonlight Bandit, one of two Mark Casse-trained colts (with Danzig Moon), was supplemented to the race for a $7,500 fee.

The Tampa Bay Derby is carded as the 11th of 12 races. First post is 12:22 p.m. Eastern, with the Derby set for 5:23.

Three other stakes are on a terrific card: the Grade 3, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for fillies and mares on turf (race 10); the Grade 3, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old turf fillies (race 9); and the $60,000 Challenger Stakes for older routers (race 8).

The Hillsborough is of particular national interest since it features the return of Stephanie’s Kitten among a field of 12.

The weather forecast throughout the week is a good one, with mostly sunny skies and a high of 77 expected Saturday.