OLDSMAR — On a weekend when clocks move forward, it is full speed ahead for Battle Hardened.
With a victory today in the Grade II $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Battle Hardened may become the first horse to sweep Tampa Bay Downs' two major races and start in the Kentucky Derby.
"I've thought about it quite a bit," trainer Eddie Kenneally said. "We know that if we could win (today), it would definitely punch our ticket to the (Kentucky) Derby. Then Battle Hardened has got to continue to do well in the eight weeks until the Derby. I'm really confident because I know we haven't seen the best of him yet."
The 1 1/16th-mile Tampa Bay Derby (Race 11, 5:28 p.m.) is the featured event on Festival Day. Also on the 12-race card are the Grade III $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes (Race 10, 4:58) and $100,000 Suncoast Stakes (Race 9, 4:28).
Battle Hardened, a 3-year-old colt by 2009-10 North America-leading sire Giant's Causeway, drew post 7 with jockey Julien Leparoux. The Kentucky-bred horse faces stronger competition than the Grade III Sam F. Davis, where he broke his maiden. Spring Hill Farm is undefeated in two races for trainer Todd Pletcher, who is 1-for-9 in Tampa Bay Derby starts. Prospective (second), Ravelo's Boy (fourth) and Fox Rules (sixth) return from the Sam F. Davis. Louisiana invader Cajun Charlie has two stakes wins.
Take Charge Indy is expected to be scratched today and wait for the March 31 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. His rider was supposed to be Calvin Borel, who captured his first of three Kentucky Derby victories with 2007 Tampa Bay Derby winner Street Sense.
"We'll learn a lot more again about our horse," Kenneally said. "It is a tougher group of horses. (In the Sam F. Davis), our horse went over to Tampa from Palm Meadows (Training Center in Boynton Beach) and handled the surface really well. Sometimes, that can be a little difficult shipping into Tampa."
Owned by Michael Tabor and Susan Magnier, Battle Hardened is tied for 23rd in graded stakes earnings at $120,000. Today's $210,000 first-place paycheck would put him eighth. The Kentucky Derby field is limited to 20 starters based on graded earnings, Kenneally saddled his first Derby starter last year with Santiva (sixth), another son of Giant's Causeway who also broke his maiden in a graded stakes (Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs).
"Battle Hardened is a bigger, slower-maturing horse," Kenneally said. "I feel like he's going to peak sometime in the spring, which would be ideal."
Five horses have swept the 32-year-old Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby; the last was Burning Roma in 2001. None ran in the Kentucky Derby. Seven of the previous eight Tampa Bay Derby winners have started in the Kentucky Derby, and 2010 third-place finisher Super Saver won the Kentucky Derby with Borel.