Though Ocean Knight (Ocean Goddess, by Stormy Atlantic) raced last in the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs, the original plan was that he would be shipping north for the Gotham Stakes (GIII) at Aqueduct. Instead, it was announced today that he is staying south, and will race in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII).
In the balance, this looks like a great move.
Ocean Knight, prevailing over Divining Rod in the 2015 Sam F. Davis Stakes (GIII).
On one hand, the Tampa Bay Derby looks like a more difficult race than the Gotham. Likely returning to meet Ocean Knight in the Tampa Bay Derby are the second through fourth place finishers from the Davis: Divining Rod, My Johnny Be Good, and Ami’s Flatter. Carpe Diem returns for his first race since finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Though that means he comes in off a long lay, trainer Todd Pletcher sends his trainees ready, and Carpe Diem showed a lot last year. Danzig Moon, an impressive maiden winner at Gulfstream on February 7, also plans to run at Tampa on Saturday.
This seems like a tougher bunch overall than the Gotham: El Kabeir and Classy Class head the probables, with the likes of Tencendur, Blame Jim, Dontbetwithbruno, and Combat Diver also likely to turn up. El Kabeir is a fast horse, though a mile and a sixteenth is beyond his ideal distance. Classy Class, Ocean Knight’s stablemate, has shown promise but hasn’t quite been able to get it together yet in stakes company. Unless one of the newer shooters takes a big step forward, it seems a softer field than Tampa does.
Despite his having previously been pointed to Aqueduct, Tampa seems the better choice for Ocean Knight. For one, it alleviates the potential stress of shipping. Secondly, the tougher field makes it a better Derby prep for him. Ocean Knight is still inexperienced; he has only raced twice before. A bit more experience against an overall stiffer field should help him be a stronger and saltier horse as the Derby trail gets more serious.
There is the issue of points to get into the Derby starting gate, of course. Carpe Diem looms large; if he returns to be as formidable at three as he was at two, he will give Ocean Knight a stiff test. But, between the layoff and the fact that he is an unknown quantity over the Tampa surface, even Carpe Diem seems no lock. Ocean Knight has a strong shot of coming out of the Tampa Bay Derby with a lot of points. He overcame an outside gate and a wide trip last out, and outfinished a game Divining Rod to garner the win. This shows he does not have to have things perfectly his way, and also that he likes the notoriously love-it-or-hate-it Tampa Bay dirt. In short, Ocean Knight has shown enough already to make it wise to stay home for the tougher race instead of travelling for the likely easier spot.