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Pletcher has strong hand for TB Derby in Tapwrit, Sonic Mule

OLDSMAR, Fla. -- Trainer Todd Pletcher has won three of the last four editions of the Tampa Bay Derby and has an excellent chance of continuing his dominance of the race at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, when he will send out likely favorite Tapwrit and Sonic Mule in a field of 10 3-year-olds.

The Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby is the centerpiece of Festival Day, the biggest day of the Tampa Bay Downs meet, featuring five stakes races, including the Grade 2 Hillsborough and Grade 3 Florida Oaks. There is an all-stakes pick-five wager covering races 7-11 and ending with the Tampa Bay Derby at 5:27 p.m. Eastern.

The 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby offers 85 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to its top four finishers on a scale of 50-20-10-5.

Since finishing last in his debut at Saratoga last summer, Tapwrit has been awfully hard to beat for owners Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Robert LaPenta. The Tapit colt won his maiden at Gulfstream Park West in November and then took the $75,000 Pulpit Stakes in the slop at Gulfstream Park in December. The Pulpit's runner-up, Master Plan, returned in January to take the $100,000 males' division of the OBS Championship convincingly.

Last out, Tapwrit rallied to finish second to leading Kentucky Derby prospect McCraken in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the key local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby. McCraken, who will miss this race due to puffiness in an ankle, set a track record for 1 1/16 miles that day. Tapwrit was beaten 1 1/2 lengths and earned a 93 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest mark in Saturday's field.

Tapwrit drew the No. 5 post and will be ridden by Jose Ortiz, who said after the Sam F. Davis that he had been stuck in traffic along the rail for a bit on the far turn before finding a seam in the lane.

"He comes off a good race in the Sam Davis," Pletcher said. "He had a little bit of trouble and closed well. We've been planning on sending him back there all along. On paper, there looks like there should be an honest pace, but he's tactical enough and adaptable enough to do what's needed."

Key Contenders

Tapwrit, by Tapit
Last 3 Beyers: 93-78-76

Hopes have always been high for this $1.2 million yearling purchase, who has turned in two half-mile maintenance breezes at Palm Beach Downs since the Sam F. Davis.

Sonic Mule, by Distorted Humor
Last 3 Beyers: 86-83-83

He won the $75,000 Buffalo Man Stakes in the slop at Gulfstream in December and returned to win the $100,000 Mucho Macho Man by a head over State of Honor, who subsequently finished a fine third in the Sam F. Davis and returns in this spot. Sonic Mule returns to a route after finishing third in the Grade 2 Swale Stakes at seven furlongs.

Two straight bullet half-mile workouts at Palm Beach Downs testify to his readiness.

"He's been very consistent," Pletcher said. "I felt like he breezed really well last weekend. The timing and distance of this race really suited him too."

Beasley, by Shackleford
Last 3 Beyers: 89-84-74

He'll be making his stakes debut after finishing second to one of Pletcher's top Kentucky Derby prospects, Battalion Runner, in a first-level allowance at Gulfstream Park.

He drew the No. 6 post under Irad Ortiz Jr. and has been training sharply at Gulfstream Park, with back-to-back bullet half-mile workouts, including one in 46.80 seconds last Saturday.

"We're happy with the draw and optimistic that he can take another step forward," trainer Mark Hennig said. "I know Todd thinks highly of Battalion Runner. He's doing well, and I think having a two-turn race under his belt will help him quite a bit."

State of Honor, by To Honor and Serve
Last 3 Beyers: 91-83-71

Stakes-placed on the synthetic surface at Woodbine as a juvenile, this colt has made a smooth transition to dirt, finishing second in the Mucho Macho Man and third in the Sam F. Davis, where he set all the pace and was beaten 2 1/2 lengths. Two fast half-mile workouts at Palm Meadows since then add to his appeal.

"He's training extremely well," trainer Mark Casse said. "He's very fast. Last time, we decided to take advantage of his rail post and went ahead and sent him. This time, maybe we're looking to try to rate him a little bit and hope that helps him finish a little better. He took all the early heat last time and was still around at the end. That was only his second start on dirt, and he should improve again Saturday -- at least we're hoping so."

No Dozing, by Union Rags
Last 3 Beyers: 79-82-81

The runner-up in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes finished a dull sixth in the Sam F. Davis but got the green light for this race after turning in two good workouts here for trainer Arnaud Delacour.

-- additional reporting by Marty McGee