Expert Play of the Week: Tampa Bay Derby

Mar 05, 2021 John Mucciolo/

A large field of 12 sophomores will contest Saturday’s $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2). The 1 1/16-mile headliner is part of the 2021 Road to the Kentucky Derby challenge series, with the top four finishers earning qualifying points for the Run for the Roses on a 50-20-10-5 basis.

Candy Man Rocket, who took the local prep for this when striding home first in the Sam F. Davis S. (G3), is the one to beat for conditioner Bill Mott. The talented son of Candy Ride has won two races in succession, and he also shows a pair of very good morning drills in preparation of his biggest assignment to date. He is the Expert Pick of the Week.

RELATED: Candy Man Rocket tops 12-horse Tampa Bay Derby

The $250,000 two-year-old purchase was unplaced at Churchill Downs as a juvenile on debut, but he has displayed major improvement in 2021. He dominated a maiden special weight event at Gulfstream Park by nine lengths in his seasonal bow prior to acing his initial two-turn test on the Tampa surface last time out. In that tally, the Kentucky-bred tracked a fast pace, took over readily in early stretch, and held a comfortable edge through the wire under Junior Alvarado.

While the well-meant three-year-old didn’t set the teletimer on fire in the Sam F. Davis, he was always traveling like a winner and will benefit from having a route race under his belt as well. Candy Man Rocket has proven to be capable of rating off of the pace and kicking for home, and he will do that on Saturday in a field with a lot of early zip in the mix.

I believe that Candy Man Rocket is an underrated colt sitting on another big race on Saturday. His bullet drill at Payson Park most recently was the best of 26 at the distance on the day, and if he runs to that move, his foes will be battling for runner-up honors once again. Alvarado retains the mount atop the versatile youngster.

Expert Pick

Candy Man Rocket to win the Tampa Bay Derby is the Best Bet of the Week.

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