Carpe Diem returns in salty nine-horse Tampa Bay Derby

Carpe Diem (Giant's Causeway) figures to face a stiff challenge as he makes his highly-anticipated 2015 bow in Saturday's $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2). A 6 1/4-length winner of the Breeders' Futurity (G1) in his second start, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt established himself as one of the winter-book Kentucky Derby favorites when concluding his juvenile season with a runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).

A $1.6 million purchase for Stonestreet Stables and WinStar Farm, Carpe Diem registered a field-best 100 BRIS Speed rating when annexing the Breeders' Futurity. He shows three bullet works for his return and John Velazquez will be back aboard.

The Tampa Bay Derby serves as a Kentucky Derby qualifier, offering points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers, and Ocean Knight (Curlin) will be looking to earn his first points toward a berth at Churchill Downs on May 2.

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The bay colt made his career debut in mid-December on Aqueduct's inner track, easily capturing a six-furlong maiden special weight, and followed with a commendable victory in the January 31 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, overcoming a wide trip to score by a neck. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin immediately committed Ocean Knight to the Tampa Bay Derby afterward, but was forced to consider Saturday's Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct when Pletcher announced Carpe Diem's participation due to common ownership.

The close proximity to his South Florida base at Palm Meadows, coupled with the weather uncertainty in New York, led McLaughlin to recommit the Stonestreet Stables colorbearer to the Tampa Bay Derby earlier this week and Ocean Knight drew much better in post 2 Saturday after breaking from gate 12 last time. Irad Ortiz Jr. will stick with the promising Kentucky Derby hopeful.

Three-time stakes winner Souper Colossal (War Front) has been re-directed to the Tampa Bay Derby following last weekend's washout of the Swale (G2) at Gulfstream Park. After sustaining his first setback with a seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the Eddie Plesa Jr. trainee opened his sophomore campaign on turf, winning the five-furlong Texas Glitters going away on February 7. Joel Rosario, who picked up the mount last time, retains the assignment.

Divining Rod (Tapit) just missed on the front end when making his stakes debut in the Sam Davis, finishing five lengths clear of third, and the speedy colt figures to show the way again from his rail post with Luis Garcia. Sam Davis third-placer My Johnny Be Good (Colonel John) is also back along with fourth-placer Ami's Flatter (Flatter), who adds first-time Lasix and blinkers for conditioner Josie Carroll.

Danzig Moon (Malibu Moon) will make his first stakes attempt for Mark Casse following a visually-impressive maiden win at Gulfstream Park on February 7. Julien Leparoux will accompany the well-bred colt from the far outside post position.

The $200,000 Florida Oaks (G3) is one of three supporting stakes on the Tampa Bay Derby undercard and a full field of 14 sophomore fillies, highlighted by the Chad Brown-trained Consumer Credit (More Than Ready), is set for the 1 1/16-mile turf affair.

Consumer Credit has won three straight, including the January 24 Sweetest Chant (G3) at Gulfstream, and tops the field in BRIS Prime Power (148.9). Edgard Zayas has the call. Her main rivals include Sweetest Chant runner-up Quality Rocks (Rock Hard Ten); recent Gulfstream allowance winner Lismore (Tiznow), who finished second to Consumer Credit two starts back in the Wait a While; and Don't Leave Me (Lemon Drop Kid), who makes her first appearance since recording a troubled sixth at short odds in the Natalma (G2) last fall.

Multiple Grade 1 queen Stephanie's Kitten (Kitten's Joy) is the one to beat in the $150,000 Hillsborough (G3), a 1 1/8-mile turf event that has drawn 12 fillies and mares. Last seen finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), the Ken and Sarah Ramsey-owned mare will make her first appearance at Tampa and keeps Velazquez in the saddle.

Filimbi (Mizzen Mast) will make her first appearance since capturing the November 2 Goldikova (G2) at Santa Anita and Sparkling Review (Lemon Drop Kid) has a three-race win streak in tow, easily capturing the Mrs. Revere (G2) and Valley View (G3) last fall.

The stakes action kicks off with a 13-horse field, including an also-eligible, in the $60,000 Challenger at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. Old Time Hockey (Smarty Jones) goes turf to dirt for Tom Proctor following a head second in the January 24 Tampa Bay (G3) and Grade 1-placed General a Rod (Roman Ruler), a Triple Crown veteran last year, will make his first start for Pletcher.