03/14/2016 1:23PM

Road to the Derby: Tampa Bay Derby

Tom Keyser
Destin (left) wins the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby over his stablemate Outwork.

Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, 1 1/16 miles, Tampa Bay Downs, March 12, 2016

(50 Derby qualifying points for a win, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth)

Winner: Destin, by Giant’s Causeway
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Owner: Twin Creeks Racing Stables, LLC
Beyer Speed Figure: 100

DESTIN has seen his form improve sharply in his two starts at Tampa. After winning the Sam F. Davis, the prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, he downed his stubborn Pletcher-trained stablemate OUTWORK to capture the Tampa Bay Derby while earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure.

The question going forward will be whether Destin is a one-track pony. I’m of the opinion that he has improved, period, and that the addition of blinkers in his last three starts is now paying dividends. But the proof won’t come until he makes his next start, his final Kentucky Derby prep, which will be in either Arkansas, Kentucky, or New York.

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

In the Tampa Bay Derby, Destin broke well and took up a stalking position into the first turn, three paths wide, in third, outside of Outwork and RIKER. He remained in that spot down the backstretch and into the far turn, ranged up on his own – with Castellano taking a peek back a quarter-mile out – engaged Outwork in upper stretch, was a bit late to swap leads upper stretch, wore down Outwork in the final furlong, and in the shadow of the wire swapped back to his wrong lead. He’s still a bit green.

Outwork, who finished second, is a giant, imposing animal – think Dortmund – and he ran a terrific race for his third career start. He set solid fractions while being stalked by Riker and Destin, responded when asked nearing the quarter pole, was slightly late with his lead change entering the lane, refused to let Destin get past him in upper stretch, and only yielded in the late going while finishing well clear of the rest of the field.

STAR HILL, who finished a distant third, was a bit keen while being rated and wound up midpack, behind the leaders around the first turn and into the backstretch, where he continued to be more aggressive than it appeared jockey Julien Leparoux desired while racing in traffic between ECONOMIC MODEL and AWESOME BANNER. He emerged from between those two heading into the far turn, went around Riker nearing the quarter pole, could make no impact on the top two, but safely held third. If he subsequently ends up in a slow-paced, two-turn race, it would be interesting to see how he’d do if put on the lead.

RAFTING, who was fourth, had no early speed and raced in seventh, in the clear, while saving ground around the first turn. He made a moderate run around the far turn while in the two path, moved farther out for the stretch run, and went evenly while failing to change leads.

TALE OF S’AVALL, who was fifth, had no early speed and was in front of only BRODY’S CAUSE heading into the first turn while racing three paths wide. He remained in the middle of the track down the backstretch, was asked hard with three furlongs to go, was cleverly angled to the rail on the far turn by jockey Joe Bravo to save valuable ground, but never made any impact through the lane.

Riker, who was sixth, was forwardly placed per usual. He sat second, just behind and outside of Outwork, around the first turn and down the backstretch, but was outrun by Outwork and Destin nearing the quarter pole and then steadily faded. He is perfect on synthetic and likely needs that surface to do his best.

Brody’s Cause, who finished seventh, has no early speed. And on this day, he had no late speed, either. He trailed into the first turn while hugging the rail, couldn’t keep up when other trailers began their rallies with three furlongs to go, was gradually angled outside on the far turn to have a clear path entering the lane, but never showed any spark while racing in the middle of the track. He ran well at Keeneland last fall, and he’ll need to find his best form again there in the Blue Grass to be considered a legitimate Derby contender.

The speedy Awesome Banner, who finished eighth, continues to regress. Wheeled back two weeks after running in the Fountain of Youth, he drew an outside post, then was rated just enough to wind up four paths wide around the first turn. He had to be niggled at midway through the race just to try and not lose position, wound up three paths wide into the far turn, was fanned about four paths wide into the lane, and tired. Not using his natural speed seems foolish, but as I said in that Fountain of Youth analysis, he likely can’t handle these trips and will be best suited by going back to sprinting.

Economic Model, who was last of nine, was in a super spot around the first turn – along the rail, following Outwork – while just behind the leaders. Yet by the far turn, he already needed to be asked to keep up, but he had no response, and he readily dropped back.