03/08/2014 6:50PM

Tampa Bay Derby: Ring Weekend romps at 14-1

Tom Keyser
Ring Weekend, ridden for the first time by Daniel Centeno, thrusts himself into the Kentucky Derby picture with a three-length victory in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Graham Motion said a few days before the Tampa Bay Derby was run that he was looking to “find out where we are” with Ring Weekend.

Well, here’s where: the 140th Kentucky Derby.

Ring Weekend, who took five tries to win a maiden race, broke loose Saturday with a front-running triumph at 14-1 in the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, the annual marquee race at the Oldsmar, Fla., track.

By virtue of his three-length victory over Vinceremos, Ring Weekend earns 50 Kentucky Derby points and a presumed berth into the May 3 race at Churchill Downs. Owned by St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds, Ring Weekend returned $30 after finishing the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43.71 over a fast track.

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

Daniel Centeno, a perennial leading jockey at Tampa, was aboard Ring Weekend, a chestnut gelding by the red-hot sire Tapit. Vinceremos also is by Tapit.

Breaking from post 1 in a field of 10 3-year-olds, Ring Weekend went straight to the front and opened a big lead down the backstretch. Surfing U S A, who gave closest chase throughout after breaking from post 2, could not make any headway, although he gave way grudgingly in the final furlong to yield second to his Todd Pletcher stablemate, Vinceremos, by three-quarters of a length.

Conquest Titan, the 5-2 favorite, rallied mildly up the rail to be fourth, another length back. Then came Matador, Cousin Stephen, Hy Kodiak Warrior, East Hall, Coltimus Prime, and Tuscan Getaway.

Ring Weekend ran in three maiden races last year at 2, with his best finishes a pair of thirds. He ran second in his 3-year-old debut on the Gulfstream Park turf in January before finally getting through his maiden condition with a half-length score in a Feb. 8 dirt route at Gulfstream..

“I wouldn’t say my confidence was high,” Motion said, “but I really thought he was legit. I took him to Saratoga to try to break his maiden; that’s how much I liked him. I think gelding him got his mind on the game.

“I just left the ride to Daniel. I knew he could take advantage of the post position because the inside was good today and to just make sure he broke well and put him where he is comfortable. I think the others kind of left him alone because they possibly didn’t consider him a legit horse and he got away with it. When the jockey looks behind him that much, you feel like he has a lot left. I could never have anticipated him winning like that.”

The $2 exacta (1-6) paid $291.60, the $1 trifecta (1-6-2) returned $950.40, and the 10-cent superfecta (1-6-2-5) was worth $343.81.

The Tampa Bay Derby produced the Kentucky Derby winner in two of the seven prior runnings - Street Sense (2007) and Super Saver (2010). Nine of the last 10 winners of the race have gone on to compete in the Kentucky Derby.

The win capped a big day at Tampa for Motion, who two races earlier won the Grade 3 Hillsborough Stakes with Cloud Scapes. Based primarily in Maryland, Motion is best known for winning the 2011 Kentucky Derby and 2013 Dubai World Cup with Animal Kingdom.