OLDSMAR — For months, the proverbial marquee advertised Tampa Bay Downs and its super show: the Tampa Bay Derby, starring Uncle Mo, early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
It was practically a foregone conclusion the undefeated Eclipse Award winner would make his 3-year-old debut this afternoon at the Downs — until Gulfstream Park refused to holler uncle. The Hallandale Beach track wrote the ungraded $100,000 Timely Writer, also today, hoping the South Florida colt would remain close to home. Cross-entered in both races, Uncle Mo is expected to start in the Timely Writer.
Still, the Tampa Bay Derby has one of the track's most celebrated cards in 85 years. The $350,000 race (Race 11, 5:20 p.m.), featuring Sam F. Davis winner Brethren, is the first Grade II race and the richest stakes ever at the Downs. The 1 1/16-mile event tops the Festival Day 12-race program. On the undercard are the Grade III $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes and $75,000 Suncoast.
Uncle Mo was cross-entered in case the Timely Writer didn't fill, but six horses entered the 1-mile event (Race 8, 4:25 p.m.). "We always hoped we would get him," Downs racing secretary Allison De Luca said.
The Tampa Bay Derby drew a field of 10, including the top four finishers in the Sam F. Davis: Brethren, Too Experience, Watch Me Go and Beamer. The unbeaten Brethren drew the outside post, the one he had in the Sam F. Davis.
Brethren has Eclipse Award-winning connections in trainer Todd Pletcher, owner WinStar Farm and jockey Ramon Dominguez.
"He didn't break very alert (in the Sam F. Davis) but was willing to do anything I asked," Dominguez said.
The homebred colt by Distorted Humor will try to become the sixth horse to win the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby; Burning Roma last did it, in 2001. This will be the third Tampa Bay Derby for Dominguez, 34, who won in 2002 with Equality and finished third last year aboard Super Saver, Brethren's half-brother and the first Kentucky Derby winner for Pletcher and WinStar Farm.
Pletcher always brings a contender to the Tampa Bay Derby, but Limehouse (2004) has been his only winner in eight starts since 2000. He also has six seconds and a third.
The Tampa Bay Derby, established 31 years ago, is one of the leading preps for the Run for the Roses. In the past four years, it has produced two Kentucky Derby winners: Street Sense (2007) and Super Saver. Six of the past seven Tampa Bay Derby winners have advanced to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The 2009 event, won by Musket Man, sent four runners to the Kentucky Derby, giving Oldsmar five of the 19 starters.
DOGS: Derby Lane star Flying Coal City of McAllister kennel has been sent to Kansas to recover from a shoulder injury.