12/14/2009 12:00AM

Ryan barn has a pair of sluggers

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Barbara D. Livingston
Musket Man has not raced since his third-place finishes in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness back in May.

OLDSMAR, Fla. - When trainer Derek Ryan looks down his shed row and sees the last two winners of the Tampa Bay Derby - Musket Man and Big Truck - nickering for their feed, he has to feel pretty good.

Musket Man won the 2009 edition of the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby with a headlong charge through the final furlong, added the Illinois Derby to his resume in his next start, then moved to Louisville, where he turned in a sparkling effort in the Kentucky Derby. He finish third in the race despite having to wait for racing room and alter course at a crucial point, and many observers felt he should have at least been second.

The road to the Derby and Triple Crown is a grueling one on both horses and humans, and in the case of Musket Man, Ryan reported that following running third in the Preakness his colt was in need of some good old-fashioned rest and relaxation.

"He was pretty body-sore and a bit banged up," Ryan said, "There wasn't anything serious, but he's the type who throws himself into races, and that takes a toll over the long run. We felt it best for him to let him have a short vacation, to recharge his batteries both mentally and physically, and bring him back here where the surroundings are familiar and we know he likes the surface."

Musket Man has been progressing steadily in his training schedule and worked a solid half-mile Saturday morning in 47.80 seconds in company with a promising 2-year-old named Schoolyard Dreams.

"We'll be looking at the 4-year-old-and-up stakes here, and we'll pretty much let him tell us when he's ready to come back."

Big Truck, who won the 2008 Tampa Bay Derby, was sidelined with tendon problems last season. There was some talk about his retiring to stud, but nothing came of those discussions. Big Truck, who started out with trainer Barclay Tagg, was sent to Ryan's barn.

"He's an imposing-looking horse," said Ryan, an Irish-born horsemen who works hand-and-hand with his top assistant, Martin Weir. "Barclay's people did a good job with him. He's coming along nicely and worked Saturday morning in 49 and 2, so he's not too far from a possible race as well. It's a nice problem to have, trying to map out a schedule for two horses like these two."

It's obvious Ryan thinks highly of the 2-year-old Schoolyard Dreams, a Stephen Got Even colt, if he is working him with the likes of Musket Man, and Ryan had a gleam in his eye when he talked him.

"He finished third in his first start at Philadelphia Park, then ran down some decent maidens to win his second race while earning an 86 Beyer and a 10 on the sheets," Ryan said, referring the professional speed sheets a number of trainers use as barometers of their horses' performances. "At this point in his development, I'd have to say he's a bit farther along than Musket Man was last winter. Wouldn't it be something to have back-to-back-to-back Tampa Bay Derby winners in the same barn?"

Pinto, Canadian jock, to try Tampa

Riders come to Oldsmar from all parts of North America each winter, lured by the prospect of warm weather, a safe racing surface, and large fields. Some do well and prosper while others pack up and head home when they realize the depth of competition here.

Melanie Pinto, who got her foundation working at Payson Park with trainers like Will Phipps, has been riding since 2006 and comes to Tampa this winter for the first time following a season at Fort Erie that saw her win 55 races.

"I've been in Florida off and on during the winters at Payson Park," she said, "and one of my main clients in Canada, John Sims, races here in the winter. So I thought I would give Tampa a try."

Pecoraro off to flying start

Trainer Tony Pecoraro wasted little time finding the winner's circle at the new meeting as he saddled the winners of the first three races on the opening day program.

Pecoraro sent out Arrows Flight ($7.60) in the opener, came back in the second with Snuck in Love ($6.60,) then completed the trifecta with Sunny Exchange ($4.40) in the third. The trainer missed a perfect 4-for-4 afternoon when Beatrippi finished fourth in the sixth race.