By Dick Downey
Prospective, bet down to 3-1 from an 8-1 morning line, saved ground from post 1 en route to winning the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby.
Ridden by Luis Contreras, Prospective broke alertly and settled in sixth position early and fourth down the backstretch while Cajun Charlie set the early pace in :22.69 and :47.08. Unexpected to trainer Mark Casse, Prospective took the lead in the final turn with six furlongs run in 1:11.61.
Shortly after that, he repelled 2-1 favorite Spring Hill Farm, and then held off Golden Ticket. Prospective was slowly edging away as he passed the finish line.
Golden Ticket, who broke from post 2, ran a winning race but had to settle for second, beaten three parts of a length by Prospective. Golden Ticket and Manny Cruz were away slowly and in eighth place, 10 lengths off the lead after a quarter-mile, six lengths back after a half but only a length behind Prospective when that one struck the lead.
Cozzetti was so far behind in the early going that his number didn't appear on the screen of the Trackus system, but he mounted a sharp rally under Jose Lezcano heading into the second turn and came wide down the stretch to take third, beaten 3 3/4 lengths.
Favored Spring Hill Farm, who was accustomed to being on the early lead, hit the gate at the start. Nevertheless, he was in a good stalking position midway through the race but flattened out in the stretch to come fourth. He was followed past the finish line by Ravelo's Boy, Battle Hardened, Twin, Chief Energy, Fox Rules, Cajun Charlie and Tell All You Know.
The winning time was 1:43.65 for Prospective, who's now raced successfully three times at Tampa Bay Downs. He won the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes and finished second to Battle Hardened in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes after a wide trip.
From the $350,000 purse, Prospective won $210,000. He now has a total of $365,452 in graded stakes earnings, enough to make the Kentucky Derby field.
Casse said after the race that he supposed Prospective would have to race once more before the Derby and cited the Grade I Wood Memorial as a possibility.
Golden Ticket picked up $70,000 from the Tampa Bay Derby. He was entered in it off a maiden win at Gulfstream Park. Cozzetti was awarded $35,000, also his first graded money.
Prospective is a son of Malibu Moon out of the Awesome Again mare Spirited Away. He was bred in Kentucky by Spendthrift Farm LLC and is owned by John Oxley. Oxley bought Prospective at the August 2010 Fasig-Tipton Sale for $250,000.
Winning trainer Mark Casse: “I rode him pretty hard. Was I worried? Well, I wish he could have won by five. But was I worried, you know, he’s a fighter, I didn’t really think anybody would beat him once he made the lead. I was shocked he made the lead so early. I was like, well, OK, but with the blinkers he was much more aggressive today. He’s a character—he just does what he has to do.
“He is a fighter. What happens now is a good question, I want to talk to Mr. Oxley about. We had a long discussion whether to put the blinkers on and we decided, we need something to maybe give us a length or two. This horse to make it to the Derby -- I think this horse thrives with racing, so we definitely would have to run another time somewhere. Maybe the Wood Memorial.
“He was in a position he’s never been in before, making the lead so early, and I gthought Kenny’s horse (Golden Ticket) was one of the ones to beat. He had run a good race last time and it didn’t surprise me that he was right there.
“We put blinkers on to get him to focus a little more. When we watched him in the Sam F. Davis, he was running down the backside the entire way with his head cocked and he was kind of looking at things. Luis said about the three-eighths pole of the Davis he was finished, and then when the horse came outside him he started running again. I said, (the blinkers) will get him a little closer in the early running, and it worked.
“I think we ran 60 feet farther than the winner last time. Normally, 1 is not where you want to be but it is better than 12.
“Mr. Oxley had hip surgery a couple of weeks ago. He is doing very well, and I’m sure he’s very happy, and I’m sure he’ll be fine for the next one. Mr. Oxley and the Oxleys have stepped up and given me the opportunity to be able to go out and buy horses, so to be able to reward them with something like this is special.”
Winning jockey Luis Contreras: “Man, did he want to run today! We saved all the ground early; the pace was much faster than in the Davis, and the blinkers seemed to make him more aggressive. But he let me keep him in hand when there was an opening between horses making the far turn. I asked him again entering the stretch, and I thought we had it won, but then (Golden Ticket) came up inside us and he had to respond again and we came on again.
“I got a perfect trip. My horse was a little bit excited with the blinkers on, but he just ran hard. I had too much horse in the backstretch, I just tried to keep him quiet and save a little close to the end and to keep giving me everything from the quarter pole. (The Kentucky Derby) is my dream. It is all jockeys’ dream.
“He moved a little earlier than I expected, but I just tried to keep him quiet and save as much horse as I could for the stretch. The inside post really helped me a lot going into the first turn, because I saved a little ground.
“I was looking at (Golden Ticket). That is why I kept hitting my horse with the left hand, and he just kept going. He never quit.”
Kenneth McPeek, trainer of runner-up Golden Ticket: “It was a good run. He ran well. He ran really good. I like winning, though. I’m not sure what’s next -- we’ll check out all our options and go from there. He lifted himself up in class. Up until now, he’s been trying to figure it out. I think the two turns helped him, and now that we’ve got him going longer, I think he’s a little bit better. I’m pleased.”
Manoel Cruz, jockey on Golden Ticket: “I thought this guy was going to get good today. He had won his last real easily, and that was why Mr. McPeek thought we might fit in here. When I saw (Prospective) making his move, I knew we would have to match him to win. I got an opening on the inside, and we had the lead for a few strides, but the other guy was too tough today.”
Eddie Kenneally, trainer of Battle Hardened: “He had a good trip. No real excuse.”
Julien Leparoux on Battle Hardened: “This was a much harder race for him (than the Sam F. Davis). Today we were outside most of the way, and when the leaders moved up, I wasn’t able to match them.”