OLDSMAR — He won the Sam F. Davis Stakes by a nose. One heady performance today could put him in the Kentucky Derby.
Vinceremos, the Kentucky-bred colt named after a Florida therapeutic riding center, is the main attraction in the Grade II $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (Race 11, 5:25 p.m.), the marquee event on Festival Day at Tampa Bay Downs.
The 12-race card includes the Grade III $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes (Race 9, 4:25) and Grade III $200,000 Florida Oaks (Race 10, 4:55). First post is 12:25.
Never before has the Tampa Bay Derby, now in its 34th year, been so spicy. It is the Downs' only Kentucky Derby points qualifying race with the winner virtually ensured a stall in the Run for the Roses on May 3 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Fifty points go to the winner with the next three finishers awarded points on a 20-10-5 scale.
The Tampa Bay Derby received a boost when Downs vice president and general manager Peter Berube announced the 1�-mile event was being linked for the first time to a double-bonus payout if a 3-year-old could win the Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Derby and Kentucky Derby.
Vinceremos' owners — WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stables, both from Versailles, Ky. — remain alive for the $1 million prize. And track patron Ben Wheelock of Hudson, whose name was randomly drawn after the Sam F. Davis, is eligible for $100,000.
Vinceremos, the son of 2009 Kentucky Derby runnerup Pioneerof the Nile and out of the More Than Ready mare Kettle's Sister, faces a stern test for six-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher. The lightly raced sophomore faces nine rivals, and he has been a work in progress thus far. Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado, who gave Vinceremos a perfect rail trip in the Sam F. Davis, has the return call from Post 6.
"(Vinceremos) has really been very green in all three of his starts," said Elliott Walden, WinStar Farm's president, CEO and racing manager. "What I like about him is that he gets headed and he competes. In some ways, I wish that he would go ahead and leave his competition because he looks like he has more ability than (other horses)."
In his past two starts, the Sam F. Davis on Feb. 1 and a maiden special weight race Jan. 4 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Vinceremos had 1½-length leads in the stretch. He won by only a nose and a head, respectively.
"He looked like he was well on his way to victory … and greenly quits running and likes to get into that head-to-head battle," Walden said.
"You just wonder if some horse is going to come get him where he doesn't see him. So I would hope on each race he builds upon his own experience and improves that running style."
Vinceremos was a $340,000 purchase in April at the Keeneland 2-year-old sale in Lexington, Ky. He spent the summer at WinStar Farm.
"He's really done very well," Walden said. "He came up with a little setback that we had to deal with then got him started (running) and down to Todd (in Florida)."
Since the Sam F. Davis, Vinceremos has worked out three times at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach.
His name is derived from Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center in Loxahatchee, 30 miles west of West Palm Beach.
"Vinceremos is Latin for 'to overcome or to conquer,' " Walden said. "I like both connotations of that."