Vinceremos' bid for a $1 million bonus continues on Saturday when he faces nine rivals in the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby over 1 1/16 miles.
Winner of the February 1 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs by a nose over fellow Todd Pletcher trainee Harpoon, Vinceremos is in line to win a $1 million bonus should he take both the Tampa Bay Derby and the May 3 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
The 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis was the stakes debut for Vinceremos, a Pioneerof the Nile colt who broke his maiden by a head at Gulfstream in early January. Opening up a 1 1/2 length lead in the stretch following a rail-skimming bid under Edgar Prado, the 12-1 Vinceremos was under pressure to hold off the late charge of Harpoon in a photo.
“What I like about (Vinceremos) is the fact that he gets headed and keeps competing," said Elliott Walden, the President/CEO of co-owner WinStar Farm. "And in some ways I wish he would go ahead and leave his competition, because he looks like he has more abilities than they have to this point. You go back to his maiden race, he was up a length and a half at the eighth pole, and then again when he cut the corner in the Sam F. Davis he looked like he was well on his way to victory and then kind of greenly quit running."
There will be no rematch on Saturday with Harpoon, who ran fifth in last week's Gotham at Aqueduct, but Pletcher will also saddle Surfing U S A, most recently second to the highly rated Top Billing in a 1 1/16-mile allowance at Gulfstream.
Trainer Mark Casse will be represented by Conquest Titan, a distant runner-up to Cairo Prince in the January 25 Holy Bull at Gulfstream, and Matador, a solid fourth in the Sam F. Davis in his first start since November. Both colts were stakes winners in Canada last season.
"(The Holy Bull) was an excellent race for Conquest Titan," Casse said. "Gulfstream has such a speed bias, it is difficult to come from out of it and win. We had hoped he would break better, but he got sandwiched at the start and started picking it up at the half-mile pole. The fact he ran past Intense Holiday in the stretch, and that he beat General a Rod at Churchill Downs says a lot. They say you are judged by the company you keep, and he's keeping good company.
"He probably has one of the best turns of foot of any horse I've trained. When the rider pushes the gas pedal, he had better be tied on."
Casse is also high on Matador, who was making his dirt debut in the Sam F. Davis. The son of Malibu Moon made a strong bid into contention between rivals before flattening out late.
"He got hit over the top of the nose by the whip of the jockey on (fifth-place finisher Asserting Bear), and I think that stopped his momentum," Casse revealed. "He came back to the barn with a swollen nose.
"That was his first start in almost three months and his first time on dirt, and he ran 20-30 feet farther than the winner, according to Trakus, so I think he ran a heck of a race. Hopefully with a better trip and the experience over dirt, he'll improve."
Also exiting the Davis is Cousin Stephen, who weakened to third after setting a contested early pace. The Chad Brown-trained son of Proud Citizen was only beaten three-quarters of a length.
The Tampa Bay Derby field is rounded out by Coltimus Prime, a close second in the $134,000 Display at Woodbine when last seen in December; East Hall, third in the Gulfstream Park Derby and fourth in the Fountain of Youth; Tuscan Getaway, twice stakes-placed in Canada last season; Hy Kodiak Warrior, third behind Commissioner and Top Billing in a Gulfstream allowance on January 3; and Ring Weekend, a last-out maiden winner at Gulfstream for trainer Graham Motion.
Earlier in the program, a $40,000 allowance features the Triple Crown nominated Bobby's Kitten and Global View over one mile on the turf.
Bobby's Kitten, a dominating 6 1/4-length winner of the Pilgrim at Belmont Park in October, subsequently finished third as the 6-5 favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf after setting a very fast pace. Global View, a relative late bloomer, earned his Grade 3 laurels in late November when taking the Generous at Hollywood Park by 1 1/4 lengths.