Saturday's $350,000Tampa Bay Derby (G2) produced a shocking conclusion, with 43-1 outsider WATCH ME GO (West Acre) edging the biggest longshot in the nine-horse field, 86-1 Crimson Knight (Leroidesanimaux [Brz]), by a neck in the final strides. Most of the attention was focused upon Brethren (Distorted Humor), who was favored at 1-2 off an easy four-length score in the February 12 Sam F. Davis (G3), but the well-regarded colt began to weaken in midstretch after turning for home with a short lead and wound up 3 1/4 lengths behind the runner-up in third.
Third when making his two-turn debut in the Sam F. Davis, Gilbert G. Campbell's homebred Watch Me Go recorded his biggest victory by far, improving his overall line to 9-4-0-1, and the $210,000 payday should ensure him enough graded earnings to make the Kentucky Derby (G1) field. The Florida-bred colt was unplaced in his first four stakes attempts, but they were all in sprints.
Moonhanger (Malibu Moon) rushed to the early lead after flipping in the gate and delaying the start, reaching the quarter-mile mark in :23 3/5, but Brethren was away quickly from post 9 and surged to the front before the conclusion of the first turn while three wide. Brethren opened a 1 1/2-length advantage on the backstretch, completing the opening half-mile in a comfortable :48 1/5. Watch Me Go stalked the pace in midpack during the early stages and advanced to a striking position in third leaving the backstretch.
After chasing the pace in second, Crimson Knight put pressure on Brethren on the far turn. Brethren was along the rail with Ramon Dominguez and entered the stretch in a full drive, passing the three-quarters mark with a head lead in 1:12 3/5, but he gave way with a little less than a furlong left to run. Crimson Knight passed Brethren and tried gamely to last until the wire, but Watch Me Go had momentum on the far outside and wore down his rival in deep stretch, finishing the 1 1/16-mile event in 1:44 1/5 over the fast track.
Luis Garcia had the mount on the Kathleen O'Connell-trained winner, who paid $89.40, $28.80 and $8.80 for the upset.
"I was really happy, and I was sure he'd dig in," O'Connell said. "He's exhibited a great amount of heart, and he really tried hard. His last race was his first time going two turns, and it was a graded race. Unfortunately, if you've got a three-year-old that's won a few races, there's not an easy prep spot. But he's just fulfilled a lot for the owner and for myself."
"I knew this horse was something special," Garcia added. "He was only third in the Davis, but he showed me something; that was his first time stretching out and learning to relax behind a good pace. That experience helped us today. We broke well today and the plan was to get in behind the favorite Brethren and to follow him along and wait for the stretch. Brethren took a challenge from that other horse going into the turn and I was able to wait a bit longer; then when I asked him in the stretch he had a lot of run left. Sometimes everything works out just right!"
Crimson Knight proved to be a savvy $16,000 claim for his new connections, who haltered the gelding from a February 24 turf win at Tampa Bay Downs, and the former claimer returned $50 and $11.80 to his supporters. Brethren held third by 2 3/4 lengths over fourth-placer Beamer (Vindication), who was followed under the wire by Economic Summit (Malibu Moon), Free Entry (Tale of the Cat), Too Experience (Drewman), Striding Ahead (Empire Maker) and Moonhanger. Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie) was withdrawn in favor of the Timely Writer S. at Gulfstream Park.
Out of the unraced Sabbath Song (Deputy Minister), Watch Me Go counts the stakes-placed Asgoodasshelooks as a full brother. His dam is a half-sister to stakes winners Blitzer (Ziggy's Boy), Diamonds Galore (Diamond Shoal [GB]) and Cozy Star (Cozzene), and Watch Me Go's second dam is the stakes0winning Sirona (Irish Stronghold). This is also the female family of stakes winners and Grade 2 runner-ups Mufattish (Hansel) and Regal Dreamer (Architect).
Watch Me Go captured his career debut at Calder last May and recorded an 8 1/2-length victory over allowance/optional claiming rivals at Tampa Bay prior to his third in the Sam F. Davis. He upped his career earnings to $311,345 on Saturday.
Watch Me Go will receive his final prep for the Kentucky Derby in either the Arkansas Derby (G1) or Blue Grass S. (G1), both on April 16, according to his connections.