Ring Weekend Wins Tampa Bay Derby
St. Elias Stables' and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Ring Weekend stamped his ticket to the 140th Kentucky Derby with a wire to wire score in Saturday’s $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2). He earned 50 qualifying points toward the Run for the Roses, essentially an automatic berth into the field. We’re in!
Ridden by Daniel Centeno, the chestnut son of Tapit broke running and shook clear of the rest of the field, opening up by as many as five lengths down the backstretch. On the final turn for a split second it looked like the rest of the field was going to swallow him up, but he kept on going despite goofing around a bit down the stretch and finishing on his left lead.
"Coming out of the inside post I had to get him to start well, but when I got to the first turn it was like he got mad at me for not letting him run," Centeno said. "He wasn't rank, he was just full of himself and I had to give him his head. I knew I was clear of the field and I didn't want to get run down and I was able to get him to relax and save something for the stretch. He was looking around getting into the stretch and I was getting concerned, but when he switched leads he just took off again."
Running in the Tampa Bay Derby wasn’t always in the cards for Ring Weekend. After his February 8 maiden win at Gulfstream, we circled the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel. However, Graham Motion and WPT president Terry Finley called an audible last Tuesday and decided to take a swing against the big boys at Tampa with a horse who’s improved in every start despite having never faced winners.
“I wouldn’t say my confidence was high, but I really thought he was legit,” said Motion, who said Ring Weekend turned around after being gelded following his third start as a 2-year-old at Keeneland. “I took him to Saratoga to try to break his maiden (last August), that’s how much I liked him.
“I think gelding him got his mind on the game. I just left the ride to Daniel. I knew he could take advantage of the post position because the inside was good today and told him to just make sure he broke well and to put him where he was comfortable.
“I think the others kind of left him alone because they possibly didn’t consider him a legit horse and he got away with it,” Motion added. “When the jockey looks behind him that much, you feel like he has a lot left. I could never have anticipated him winning like that.”
The victory added $210,000 to Ring Weekend’s bankroll. He’s now under consideration for the $250,000 Calder Derby run at nine furlongs on the dirt on Saturday, April 5.
“At first blush we were thinking we’d train up to the Derby, but eight weeks is too long to go without running,” said Terry Finley. “The timing of the Calder Derby is perfect -- four weeks from the Tampa Bay Derby, four weeks before the Kentucky Derby. I’ll never forget the feeling I had a hundred yards from the wire -- it’s something every racehorse owner should experience. We had a great group of Partners at the track, and it means a lot to be able to celebrate such a special win with them.”