OLDSMAR — A quick wit gets trainer Derek Ryan through his work days. Schoolyard Dreams can provide him with a keen sense of direction today in the 30th annual Tampa Bay Derby, the $300,000 signature event on Tampa Bay Downs Festival Day.
The 1 1/16-mile race attracted seven 3-year-old colts and serves as a key prep for the Kentucky Derby on May 1. It is one of three Grade III races and four stakes overall on the 12-race card.
Schoolyard Dreams, a Kentucky-bred son of Stephen Got Even, would give Ryan back-to-back Tampa Bay Derby wins with his first stakes victory. He is coming off second place in the Sam F. Davis on Feb. 13, when Rule snapped his two-race winning streak. Last year, stablemate Musket Man won the Tampa Bay Derby and the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne in Cicero. He went on to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness; he was third in both.
The locally based Schoolyard Dreams is expected to try a similar path with his next start, in the Illinois Derby on April 3. He comes off a bullet workout Sunday of 47.60 seconds for 4 furlongs. He will be ridden by Jeremy Rose for co-owners Eric Fein and Anthony Mitola. "He's improved a lot. … I have no fear of anybody," Ryan said. "His works are getting better and better. He's a developing young horse, a May foal."
Musket Man is on today's card as well, trying grass for the first time in the $75,000 Turf Dash, a 5-furlong event won the past three years by trainer Jamie Ness. Ryan said Musket Man is tuning up for the Grade I Clark Handicap on April 3 at Aqueduct in Jamaica, N.Y. Schoolyard Dreams and Musket Man each drew No. 5 posts and will wear green saddle cloths for their Irish-born trainer on the weekend before St. Patrick's Day. Ryan, 43, also starts C C's Pal in the Grade III $175,000 Florida Oaks.
The past six Tampa Bay Derby winners have gone on to the Kentucky Derby.
Stephen Got Even sired 2009 Kentucky Derby morning-line favorite I Want Revenge, who was a prerace scratch with an ankle injury. The Kentucky Derby field is limited to 20 starters with the highest graded earnings. Schoolyard Dreams ranks 35th at $40,000, but the first-place prize of $180,000 would elevate him to 11th. "A win is more important than the graded earnings," Ryan said. "Second stinks. … It's the first loser. If he gets a good trip, a little luck (and a) good ride, we'll be all right."
Ladies day: In their season debuts, 2009 horse of the year Rachel Alexandra is in New Orleans today, and undefeated Zenyatta revisits the scene of her Breeders' Cup triumph in California. The filly and the mare are scheduled to face each other for the first time April 9 in the $5 million Apple Blossom Invitational at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.