WinStar Farm Racing Manager Elliott Walden had one thing to say after Carpe Diem’s five-length victory in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Under John Velazquez, the 3-year-old colt inhaled pace-setter Divining Rod at the top of the stretch and rolled to a five-length victory from the late-running Ami’s Flatter, with Divining Rod holding on stoutly for third and Danzig Moon fourth.
Ocean Knight, the Sam F. Davis Stakes winner and second-betting favorite at 8-5, inexplicably faded to seventh in the eight-horse field, beaten 29 1/4 lengths.
Carpe Diem completed the mile-and-a-sixteenth in 1:43.60, only .49 seconds off Street Sense’s stakes record set in 2007. The winner paid $4.00 as the favorite and is now three-for-four lifetime, his only defeat coming in his last outing, a runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Carpe Diem cemented his reputation as a leading candidate for the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands while earning 50 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby point series.
The victory was one of three stakes triumphs on the card for Velazquez, who also captured the Hillsborough Stakes on the turf aboard Stephanie’s Kitten and the Challenger Stakes on General a Rod.
Carpe Diem, trained by Todd Pletcher, is co-owned by Kenny Troutt’s WinStar Farm, LLC and Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables, LLC.
“I tell you what, he just took off down the lane,” said Troutt. “I was really shocked and so was Elliott. He kept yelling ‘Slow down, slow down,’ because he didn’t want to use him up.”
“When they leave their 2-year-old season behind, you hope they come out like he did,” Walden said. “Everyone who has watched him train said he has been training better than any horse in Florida, and it’s nice to see him put it together like that. He is just a natural athlete and has a great rhythm to him.
“We missed him as a yearling, but thankfully John (Moynihan, representative for Stonestreet Stables) and I got together on him as a 2-year-old.”
Carpe Diem earned the winner’s share of $210,000 to raise his career earnings to $919,800.
“We couldn’t be more pleased," Pletcher said by telephone from South Florida. "Johnny put him in a perfect position, and he really kicked on at the top of the stretch. It was exactly what we were hoping for.”
Despite being reluctant at first to load in the gate, Carpe Diem was thoroughly professional once he got in.
“He has a history of that, a little, and we will continue to work to try to get that corrected,” Pletcher said. “He has a lot of Giant’s Causeway and Storm Cat about him; that’s what makes him good. We’re delighted with the way he ran today."
Runner-up jockey Luis Contreras was pleased with Ami’s Flatter’s performance and said the addition of blinkers helped him.
Velazquez is the fifth jockey to win the Tampa Bay Derby twice, joining Pat Day, Richard Migliore, Eibar Coa and Daniel Centeno. It was a record third Tampa Bay Derby triumph for Pletcher (Limehouse in 2004 and Verrazano in 2013) and the first for WinStar and Stonestreet.
Total handle on the 12-race card was $10,587,183.76.
Edited Tampa Bay Downs release