By Dick Downey
The Tampa Bay Derby was the second Kentucky Derby points race of the day, and it played out much like the first one with the winner, Ring Weekend, leading at every call.
With local jockey Daniel Centeno aboard, Ring Weekend ran through early fractions of :23.62, :46.68 and 1:11.41. His final time for the 1 1/16 mile was 1:43.71.
About a half-hour earlier, California Chrome led at each call en route to victory in the San Felipe Stakes.
Although it took him five starts to break his maiden, Ring Weekend had shown steady improvement. Fifth in his debut at Saratoga, he finished third in a pair of two-turn races at Churchill Downs and Keeneland to close out his juvenile campaign. He finished second to Divine Oath on Jan . 18 going 7 1/2 furlongs on turf at Gulfstream Park, then won going the Tampa Bay Derby distance on dirt at Gulfstream on Feb. 8.
Trainer Graham Motion and Ring Weekend suddenly find themselves squarely in the Kentucky Derby picture after earning 50 Derby points with the win and landing in fourth place on the leaderboard.
Vinceremos, who won the Sam F Davis stakes at the track, finished second, beaten three lengths, to earn 20 points. Surfing U S A got 10 points with his third-place finish, another 3/4 length back, and Conquest Titan ran fourth to get five points, beaten 4 3/4 lengths overall. In fifth was Matador, followed by Cousin Stephen, Hy Kodiak Warrior, East Hall, Coltimus Prime and Tuscan Getaway.
Those who supported Ring Weekend at the windows were well-paid. He returned $30 to win, $10.20 to place and $8.60 to show.
The $350,000 purse paid a winners share of $210,000 to owners St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds.
Gainesway Thoroughbreds produced Ring Weekend in Kentucky. He's a gelded son of Tapit out of the Cryptoclearance mare Free the Magic. Ring Weekend fetched $310,000 at the Keeneland September 2012 Yearling sale.
After the race, Motion seemed as surprised as most of the betting public but said Ring Weekend took advantage of a good inside part of the track and being underestimated by his competition.
Graham Motion: “I wouldn’t say my confidence was high, 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.”
Daniel Centeno: “Coming out of the inside post I had to get him to start well, but when I got to the first turn it was like he got mad at me for not letting him run. He wasn’t rank, he was just full of himself, and I had to give him his head. I knew I was clear of the field, and I didn’t want to get run down, and I was able to get him to relax and save something for the stretch. He was looking around getting into the stretch and I was getting concerned, but when he switched leads he just took off again.”
Co-owner Terry Finley (West Point Thoroughbreds): “We work together. We have some nice horses. I said to somebody, I don’t think he got enough consideration winning from the 10-hole going a mile-and-a-sixteenth at Gulfstream. We were all set to go to Laurel (for the Private Terms) but Graham called me; we have the kind of relationship where we both kind of test each other out to see if either is strong either way. We got word Kiaran horse, Baratti, was running, and on paper he has run faster than all these.”
Edgar Prado on runner-up Vinceremos: “He did everything just right. We got good position tracking the group behind the leader. He was relaxed running with other horses like he usually is, and when I asked him to run, he ran past horses quickly. But the winner was gone.”