03/07/2011 3:42PM

Tampa Bay Derby rides on Pletcher decision

Tom Cooley
Brethren, Ramon Dominguez up, wins the Sam F. Davis.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – ”What’s Todd going to do?”

That simple question has trainers and owners of a number of 3-year-olds in a state of flux as they ponder the status of trainer Todd Pletcher’s 2-year-old champion, Uncle Mo, and his undefeated stablemate, Sam Davis Stakes winner Brethren, for this Saturday’s Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby.

KENTUCKY DERBY NEWS: Track all the 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown trail

Tampa Bay’s stakes coordinator, Gerry Stanislawyzk, said that as of Sunday the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers in the Grade 3 Sam Davis Stakes – Too Experience, Watch Me Go, and Beamer - are all expected back in the field for the Tampa Bay Derby, along with Free Entry, a winner of 2 of 3 races lifetime. His only career defeat came in his career debut at the hands of Uncle Mo at Saratoga.

The connections of Economic Summit, fifth in the Nashua last fall, locally based Moonhanger, Striding Ahead, an impressive maiden winner here for Bill Mott, and recent winner Symphonic Hero are all considering the race but may wait and see which Pletcher horse shows up in the entries before making up their minds. Neil Howard, who has five 3-year-olds nominated, has indicated he may wait until Wednesday to decide whether he will race one of his in the Tampa Bay Derby

It has been well chronicled that the connections of Uncle Mo had originally indicated the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner would make his 2011 debut in the Tampa Bay Derby. but after Gulfstream Park announced it would put up a $100,000 purse for a one-mile overnight stakes called the Timely Writer on the same day, his camp shifted gears and announced they would race Uncle Mo in the Gulfstream race if the entries for that race were able to fill. Pletcher has also indicated he isn’t planning on racing Uncle Mo and Brethren in the same race before the Kentucky Derby, so decisions regarding two of the top 3-year-olds in training may rest on the status of the Timely writer.

Pletcher could well cross-enter Uncle Mo in both races and also enter Brethren here, then wait to see if the Gulfstream race fills. Meanwhile, the connections of other 3-year-olds may well just have to enter their horses and wait to see which Pletcher star shows up in the entry box.

Hillsborough shaping up well

While the picture for the derby is muddled, the Grade 3, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the turf is shaping up nicely, as eight turf runners are pointing for the race with four others on the fence.

Topping that group is Askbut I Won’ttell, a fast-closing second to Trip for A.J. in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf at Gulfstream Park in her last start in her 2011 debut. Also pointing for the Hillsborough is Zagora, who would be starting for the first time in 2011 and racing for the first time since she finished second behind Harmonious in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Cup last fall at Keeneland in her U.S. debut.

Others pointing for the Hillsborough include War Tigress, Box Office Queen, Denomination, General Consensus, It’s Tea Time, and Kiss Mine. Belle Watling, C.S. Silk, Keertana, and Ruling Class are considered possible starters.