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Carpe Diem wins Tampa Bay Derby

By Kellie Reilly

Carpe Diem has been widely considered as an elite Kentucky Derby (G1) contender since his strong juvenile campaign, and the Todd Pletcher trainee only reinforced that status by dominating in his return to action in Saturday’s $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2).

Having the tactical speed to work out the best trip for himself, the even-money favorite stalked the early leaders while telegraphing that he had their measure. Hall of Famer John Velazquez angled him to the outside to launch his bid turning for home, and the race was soon over. Carpe Diem forged ahead by an authoritative five lengths.

His final time of 1:43.60 for 1 1/16 miles was within hailing distance of the stakes record of 1:43.11, established by eventual Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in 2007. For a more direct comparison, the four-year-old General a Rod ran 1:42.89 earlier on Saturday in the Challenger S., which had an entirely different race shape — a slower early pace. In contrast, Carpe Diem tracked a considerably faster pace, which then slowed down appreciably between the six-furlong and mile mark. But despite coming off a four-month layoff, Carpe Diem was able to quicken again through his final sixteenth in :6.38. Although General a Rod’s overall time was faster, his final sixteenth wasn’t considerably better in :6.24.

All of this adds up to a fine sophomore debut for Carpe Diem, confirming the impression made by his big victory in last fall’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland and his fast-finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). The third-place finisher in the Juvenile, Upstart, has since come back to win the Holy Bull (G2) and finish first (only to be disqualified for interference) in the Fountain of Youth (G2). You could say that Upstart has flattered Carpe Diem in his absence.

At the same time, it must be pointed out that Carpe Diem was entitled to win the Tampa Bay Derby because he was simply the best horse in the race. We didn’t learn anything new about him as an individual, other than the helpful fact that he’s picked up right where he left off and is in great condition at the moment.

Indeed, the level of competition wasn’t terribly deep, and his most interesting opponent who could have stepped up, Ocean Knight, never landed a blow. The previously unbeaten Ocean Knight was coming off a win over the track in the January 31 Sam F. Davis, where he beat Divining Rod, My Johnny Be Good and Ami’s Flatter. Yet in their rematch in the Tampa Bay Derby, Ocean Knight threw in a clunker in seventh, barely beating My Johnny Be Good. Ami’s Flatter and Divining Rod, meanwhile, finished second and third to Carpe Diem on Saturday — far ahead of Ocean Knight, in a measure of just how subpar his effort was. News may be forthcoming about that.

Ami’s Flatter moved forward in first-time blinkers and remains a useful type, but shapes up as possibly a more intriguing Queen’s Plate contender than a Derby horse. Divining Rod isn’t Triple Crown nominated, and as a son of Precious Kitten, could find his true home on turf.

Another who deserves mention is the well-bred Danzig Moon, who piqued curiosity after his 4 3/4-length maiden win at Gulfstream Park. But the promising colt offered only a mild rally from seventh to take fourth, beaten more than a dozen lengths. Considering that he was facing winners, and two turns, for the first time over a surface that some love and others don’t, Danzig Moon could still turn out to be a nice prospect, but he’ll need to put it together fast to make the Derby.

Carpe Diem, on the other hand, could be the total package. The $1.6 million two-year-old in training purchase by outstanding sire Giant’s Causeway has the pedigree and running style to be a prime threat on the first Saturday in May.

Brisnet.com has the full recap of the Tampa Bay Derby, and more on Carpe Diem’s record and pedigree.

Carpe Diem photo credit: SV Photography.