Updated on 03/08/2017 3:25PM

Wild Shot gets one more chance in Tampa Bay Derby

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Tom Keyser
Wild Shot, fourth in the Sam F. Davis, will try to give trainer Rusty Arnold his first Kentucky Derby horse in 25 years.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – This year marks not only the 25th anniversary of trainer Rusty Arnold having his second and most recent starter in the Kentucky Derby but also the 35th anniversary of his first.

There would be no better way to celebrate than having another Derby starter.

“It’s the plan we’ve had since last fall,” said Arnold, who on Saturday will be looking to take a big step in that direction when Wild Shot runs in the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs.

Ten  3-year-olds were entered Wednesday for the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby, with the Todd Pletcher-trained Tapwrit favored at 3-1 after finishing a fast-closing second in the local prep, the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 11. Wild Shot figures among the next contenders in the wagering order, somewhere amid a closely matched mix that also includes Beasley, No Dozing, State of Honor, and another Pletcher trainee, Sonic Mule.

Wild Shot “came out of his last race very well, and we wanted to give him one more try,” Arnold said recently from his Palm Meadows base. “He’s a dead-fit horse right now.”

Arnold was just 27 when he saddled Wavering Monarch to a 12th-place finish behind Gato del Sol in the 1982 Kentucky Derby. Ten years later, he was back with West by West, who was 11th behind Lil E. Tee.

In the nearly quarter-century that has passed, Arnold has established himself as a pro’s pro with a deft touch with most any kind of Thoroughbred – sprint or route, dirt or grass, young or old. He said he was “a little disappointed, but not hugely so” when Wild Shot gave way in the final 100 yards to finish fourth behind McCraken in the Sam F. Davis but added that the colt deserves another shot on the Derby trail. Robby Albarado will be back from New Orleans to ride.

“When you evaluate the race, we were a little wide the whole trip and right in the race until just inside the eighth pole,” said Arnold, who turns 62 later this month. “We got beat 3 1/2 lengths by the horse we thought deserved to be the Derby favorite [McCraken]. Plus, he hadn’t been out since November.

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“Those aren’t excuses but just an objective evaluation. Now we’ve got to try to make up those few lengths. He’s had a race – and a race over the track there at Tampa. This is the first time he’ll ever have had the same rider on him twice, and Robby got to know him a little in the Sam Davis. If he runs big, we’ll go on to the Blue Grass [on April 8 at Keeneland]. If in fact we can’t get it done at this level, we may pull back a little bit and readjust and look at the Pat Day Mile” on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

Wild Shot, a Trappe Shot colt bred and owned by the Calumet Farm of Brad Kelley, is stabled at Payson Park, about an hour north of Palm Meadows, with assistant Jack Bohannan charged with his day-to-day care and Arnold making regular trips to monitor his progress. He had his final blowout for the Tampa Bay Derby by going a half-mile last Saturday in 49 seconds.

Wild Shot was dismissed at 120-1 in Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (Feb. 24-26) but is one of just nine horses to have been separately listed in all three pools. He was second to McCraken last fall in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Eighty-five qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby are up for grabs in the 37th Tampa Bay Derby, the annual showcase event at a 91-year-old track formerly known as Sunshine Park (1946-65) and Florida Downs (1965-80). The winner gets 50 points, essentially making it a Win and You’re In race.

Four other stakes, two of them graded, also will be run Saturday on the Festival Day card. Those races are the Grade 2, $200,000 Hillsborough; the Grade 3, $200,000 Florida Oaks; the $100,000 Challenger; and the $75,000 Columbia.

Pletcher has the solid favorite in the Hillsborough in the speedy Isabella Sings, a decisive winner of the local prep, the Grade 3 Endeavour on Feb. 11. Other filly-and-mare turfers expected for the 1 1/8-mile race are Dickinson, Elysea’s World, Family Meeting, and Try Your Luck.

La Coronel, making her first start since finishing a creditable sixth as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, will have Daddys Lil Darling as her chief opposition in the Florida Oaks, which goes at 1 1/16 miles on turf.