03/12/2011 8:07PM

Tampa Bay Derby winner Watch Me Go pays $89; Brethren tires to third

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Tom Cooley Photography
Watch Me Go defeats fellow longshot Crimson Knight in the Tampa Bay Derby.

As excited as trainer Todd Pletcher was to watch Uncle Mo return to the races in style Saturday at Gulfstream Park, was as disappointed as he had to be watching Brethren finish third in the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby one hour later.

After making the lead early on down the backside under Ramon Dominguez, Brethren couldn’t keep up in the stretch with longshots Watch Me Go and Crimson Knight, who battled head to head through the final sixteenth with Watch Me Go, at 43-1, winning by a neck over Crimson Knight, a former claimer who was 86-1. It was 3 1/4 lengths back to Brethren in third.

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It was the first loss for Brethren, who had won his first three starts, including the Sam Davis Stakes by four lengths last month at Tampa. Brethren is a half-brother to Super Saver, who also finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby before winning the Kentucky Derby two starts later.

“Can’t make much excuse,” Pletcher said after watching the race on television from Gulfstream Park where his juvenile champion Uncle Mo won his 3-year-old debut by 3 3/4 lengths. “Parked a little wide on the first turn, but not enough to use as an excuse. I’m disappointed.”

Dominguez, who won the Sam Davis on Brethren from a stalking position, said allowing Brethren to make the lead early on the backside may have cost his horse. Brethren made the front from early pace-setter Moonhanger about 2 1/2 furlongs into the race. He ran a half-mile in 48.20 seconds and six furlongs in 1:12.60.

“By making the lead early it took him out of his game,” Dominguez said. “He just wasn’t the same running that way. We had the same [outside] post position as last time; I had to press early to get into position from that post, I didn’t want to get caught too wide or get shuffled back. I was hoping [Moonhanger] could have stayed in front a little longer.”

Around the far turn, Brethren was confronted by Crimson Knight, under Ronald Allen Jr., and Watch Me Go, under Luis Garcia. The trio ran together until outside the sixteenth pole, when Dominguez took his horse off the inside and guided him to the three-path.

Watch Me Go, on the outside, and Crimson Knight, along the rail, duked it out to the finish line with Watch Me Go getting up. Watch Me Go, a son of West Acre owned and bred by Gil Campbell, covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.25 and returned $89.40 to win. The exacta returned $2,194.20.

Neither Watch Me Go nor Crimson Knight, claimed for $16,000 by trainer Gerald Bennett out of his last race, are nominated to the Triple Crown.

In his first start around two turns, Watch Me Go was beaten five lengths by Brethren in the Sam Davis, which was an encouraging result for his trainer, Kathleen O’Connell.

“I was expecting a huge effort,” O’Connell said. “We didn’t get beat that far in the Sam Davis, first time going two turns in graded company. I was surprised he was 43-1 to be honest with you, not that I expected to be co-favorite or anything like that.”

BC winner Pluck fourth in return

Pluck, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner, finished fourth in his 3-year-old debut Saturday on the Tampa Bay Derby undercard. He was beaten 2 1/2 lengths by Lil Bit O’Fun ($10.80).

Under Dominguez, Pluck was in sixth position early, before tipping three-wide entering the far turn. In the stretch, he came out another path, tossed his head up in the air briefly, and attempted to make up ground in the stretch, but could not catch the winner. Lil Bit O’Fun, trained by Tom Proctor, won by 1 1/2 lengths over the 99-1 pacesetter Marco’s Fling. It was a half-length to Tag V Eye, who finished one-half length ahead of Pluck.

The final time of the race was 1:38.11

“They crawled early and sprinted home; they flew home and it was just too much for him,” trainer Graham Motion said. “He doesn’t have that kind of turn of foot, especially on a track like this with such a short stretch.”

Motion said that he still plans to run Pluck in the Grade 3, $100,000 Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland in his next start. The hope is that the horse runs well enough at Keeneland to earn a trip to the 2000 French Guineas at Longchamp in May.

“Our original plan was to go to Keeneland, we needed to get a race into him to get there and we achieved that,” Motion said. “Disappointed not to win it, but I just don’t think he has that kind of instant acceleration.”

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch