LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The winner of this year's Tampa Bay Derby will not come to Louisviile as the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, but history has taught us not to ignore Tampa graduates when they ship to Churchill.
In 2007, Street Sense won at Tampa Bay and then became the first Breeders' Cup Juvenile champion to win the Derby. And in 2009, Musket Man won the Tampa Bay and was third to Mine That Bird in Derby 135.
And while none of the entries in Saturday's Tampa Bay look like Street Sense, it still looks like a very good race. The speed figures for this group of three year olds are remarkably similar.
In fact, the two top contenders both ran a 92 Bris speed figure in their last race. Vinceremos won the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa for WinStar. He beat Harpoon by a nose in the Davis. But then, Harpoon was no factor in last week's Gotham Stakes in New York.
Meanwhile, the most experienced horse in the race, Conquest Titan, comes out of the Holy Bull Stakes where he finished second to the speedy Cairo Prince. Conquest Titan had five races as a two year old including a win at Churchill.
And there's not much of a drop --in quality after the first two. Matador is another Mark Casse trainee who was fourth in the Sam Davis but just a length away. Chad Brown sends out Cousin Stephen who was third in that race, 3/4 of a length ahead of Matador.
Todd Pletcher's second entry is Surfing USA who was second to Top Billing in a Gulfstream allowance race. And Graham Motion enters Ring Weekend, who broke his maiden at Gulfstream on February 8.
And finally East Hall was fourth to Wildcat Red in the very fast Fountain of Youth Stakes. The son of Graeme Hall got a 93 Bris speed figure in that race, and that's the best in this field.
I don't think there will be a huge favorite in this race. I expect a lot of 5-1 or 6-1 shots. The 2014 Tampa Bay Derby looks like a well matched betting race.
Out in California, the Grade Two San Felipe Stakes will continue to sort out the Derby contenders, but this race could have some potential super stars.
Bob Baffert sends out the lightly raced but undefeated Bayern.
Bayern is an Offlee Wild, who won a mile allowance race at Santa Anita in 1:35.3. Gary Stevens has the mount, and the most recent Bris speed figure for this horse is 99.
But there are other speedballs in this race. California Chrome will make the jump from state bred company after winning the Cal Cup Derby. Victor Espinosa rides the horse that worked 6 furlongs in 1:11.4 at Los Al.
And another possible star on the horizon is John Sadler's Kristo. The pedigree is wonderful: Distorted Humor out of a Capote mare. Kristo was second in the Sham Stakes and on February 23 worked 1:10.4 at Santa Anita.
Baffert also returns the promising Midnight Hawk, who ran a disappointing third to Candy Boy in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. But they tried to rate Midnight Hawk that day and he might be on the lead this weekend.
Both the Tampa Bay and San Felipe are 50 Derby point races, so the winner will probably start making travel plans for Churchill. But most of all, look for a possible break out performance in California. Bayern and Kristo are serious Derby horses. And this weekend, it's all about potential for the first Saturday in May.