OLDSMAR — It was something Tampa Bay Downs trainers Kathleen O'Connell and Gerald Bennett had seen many times before: Their horses in deep stretch, engaged in a driving finish.
But this was no claiming race. It was the Doozy at the Derby.
O'Connell won the first Grade II race at the Downs in 85 years on Saturday when her Watch Me Go outlasted Bennett's Crimson Knight by a neck in a duel between hometown long shots in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby.
Watch Me Go was 43-1, and Crimson Knight 86-1.
Kentucky Derby early favorite Uncle Mo was scratched in favor of the Timely Writer race at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach (he won), so Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Brethren was the horse to beat in the nine-horse field. The 1-2 favorite led into the stretch, but he couldn't keep pace with Watch Me Go and Crimson Knight in the final 110 yards.
O'Connell's colt got the nod, covering 11/16 miles in 1 minute, 44.25 seconds for jockey Luis Garcia's first graded stakes victory. Brethren finished 31/2 lengths behind.
The first-place prize of $210,000 puts O'Connell and Ocala owner Gilbert Campbell in position to run their West Acre 3-year-old colt in the May 7 Kentucky Derby.
"I'm sure (Campbell) is thinking roses," said O'Connell, the Downs' co-defending training champion.
Bennett, celebrating his 67th birthday, saddled Crimson Knight for the first time after claiming him for $16,000 from Tom Proctor.
Watch Me Go paid $89.40, $28.80 and $8.80. Crimson Knight returned $50 and $11.80.
It was the eighth loss in nine Tampa Bay Derby starts for Brethren trainer Todd Pletcher.
NOTES: Leading jockey Daniel Centeno sustained a pelvic bone injury Friday and is expected to miss the remainder of the meet. … Frederic Lenclud won the other stakes with Denomination ($26.20) in the Grade III $150,000 Hillsborough and Wyomia ($15.20) in the $75,000 Suncoast. … The Downs had a record handle of $10,949,807 for a 12-race card. Attendance was 10,755.