Updated on 03/10/2012 9:47AM

Tampa Bay Derby: Spring Hill Farm steps up for Pletcher

Barbara D. Livingston
Spring Hill Farm will jump up to stakes company in Saturday’s Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby.

Less than a month ago, the undefeated but relatively inexperienced Spring Hill Farm was well down on the depth chart of trainer Todd Pletcher’s potent team of Kentucky Derby prospects. But after two of Pletcher’s principal players, Algorithms and Discreet Dancer, recently dropped off the Derby trail, Spring Hill Farm suddenly finds himself one of the starting five and hoping to impress his coach even further with another big performance in Saturday’s $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby.

Spring Hill Farm figures to go postward the favorite in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. A full field of a dozen 3-year-olds was entered to contest the 1 1/16-mile fixture, but one of those 12, Take Charge Indy, will be scratched, trainer Pat Byrne confirmed Friday. 

The Tampa Bay Derby has continued to gain stature as a Derby prep and which produced recent Derby winners Street Sense and Super Saver.

The Tampa Bay Derby will again highlight Tampa Bay Downs’s Festival Day program, which also includes the Grade 3, $150,000 Hillsborough for fillies and mares on the turf and $100,000 Suncoast for 3-year-old fillies.

:: LIVE VIDEO: Tampa Bay Derby on DRF.com

Spring Hill Farm is perfect in two starts. The son of Smart Strike was an easy maiden winner when debuting Jan. 14 at Gulfstream Park, drawing off to a 6 1/4-length victory going seven furlongs. He handled both the stretch to a mile and a sloppy track to defeat first-level optional claiming opposition four weeks later. Spring Hill Farm led at every call in both races.

“We always thought he had a lot of talent,” Pletcher said. “He started behind some of our other 3-year-olds, but he’s made up a lot of ground. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him so far, and he is training great for this race.”

Pletcher has used the Tampa Bay Derby as a successful springboard to the Kentucky Derby on numerous occasions. His Super Saver won the Derby two starts after finishing third at Tampa in 2009, while Bluegrass Cat (2006) and Impeachement (2000) finished second in both the Tampa Bay and Kentucky derbies.

Battle Hardened had a coming-out party of sorts last month at Tampa after winning his maiden in the Grade 3 Sam Davis. Battle Hardened, an improving son of Giant’s Causeway, rallied to a 1 1/4-length decision over an unlucky Prospective who finished second, despite racing very wide around both turns.

“He’s improving all the time,” said Eddie Kenneally who trains Battle Hardened for owners Michael Tabor and Mrs John Magnier. “He’s working well and ready to go.”

The Tampa Derby will rematch three of the top four finishers from the Sam Davis, with Ravelo’s Boy, the fourth-place finisher who was beaten just a pair of noses for second money by Prospective, also heading back to Tampa for the race.

The remainder of the field includes Golden Ticket, Twin, Chief Energy, Tell All You Know, Cozzetti, Fox Rules, and Cajun Charlie.

The presence of Cajun Charlie along with Spring Hill Farm should assure an honest pace. Cajun Charlie has won three in a row, including a pair of statebred stakes in Louisiana, while on or with the lead in every start. The Tampa Derby will be only his second outing this year and first beyond a mile.


Tampa Bay Derby (G2), Post Time: 5:28 ET Saturday

Purse: $350,000; 1 1/16 mile





ML Odds



M. Casse

L. Contreras



Golden Ticket

K. McPeek

M. Cruz




P. Maestre

D. Centeno



Chief Energy

J. Toner

P. Lopez



Tell All You Know

C. Stewart

L. Goncalves




D. Romans

J. Lezcano



Battle Hardened

E. Kenneally

J. Leparoux



Ravelo's Boy

M. Azpurua

J. Sanchez



Spring Hill Farm

T. Pletcher

J. Castellano



Take Charge Indy

P. Byrne

C. Borel



Fox Rules

M. Ferraro

H. Villa-Gomez



Cajun Charlie

B. House

T. Hebert


Recent Tampa Bay Derby winners

Year Horse Beyer
2011 Watch Me Go 84
2010 Odysseus 94
2009 Musket Man 90
2008 Big Truck 93
2007 Street Sense 102

Average winning Beyer: 94.05

Highest winning Beyer: Equality (2002), 103

Lowest winning Beyer: Prix de Crouton (1994), 82

Tampa Bay Derby/Kentucky Derby winner: Street Sense (2007)