At the quarter pole, Odysseus appeared to have no chance to win Saturday's $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby. Even at the wire, it looked like his frantic final surge had fallen short of catching Schoolyard Dreams. But the photo finish camera indicated otherwise with Odysseus eeking out a nose victory.
Odysseus, a son of Malibu Moon owned by Satish Sanan's Padua Stable and trained by Thomas Albertrani, prompted the pace of the 3-2 favorite Super Saver for six furlongs before dropping several lengths behind the leaders leaving the quarter pole. But once settling into the stretch under jockey Rajiv Maragh, Odysseus reasserted himself, angled inward to split the leaders inside the sixteenth pole and got his nose down first in the final stride.
Schoolyard Dreams, reserved about four lengths off the early lead by jockey Jeremy Rose, made a quick move from the outside to overtake Super Saver after six furlongs, then maintained a narrow advantage over that rival for much of the stretch before ultimately suffering a heartbreaking defeat.
Super Saver, making his first start since Nov. 28, set a realistic pace and continued on gamely once displaced on the lead by Schoolyard Dreams, finishing a half-length behind the runner-up in third. Gleam of Hope, who made a strong run to loom boldly in early stretch, was fourth, a half-length further back. He was followed by Uptowncharlybrown, Slammy Boy and Tuvia's Force.
Odysseus, who won an allowance race by 15 lengths here last month, completed the mile and one-sixteenth ini 1:44.31 seconds under jockey Rajiv Maragh and paid $6.
Albertrani, when kiddingly asked at what point he knew he'd won the race, said "when they put the 7 up on the board."
"I thought we were done at the three-eighths pole," he said. "I think when the horse outside [Schoolyard Dreams] ran by so quickly it took him by surprise and he lost his position a bit. But he kept grinding and grinding and by the eighth pole he was back in it again. He's really a gutsy horse. He showed a lot of determination to grind it out all the way like that."
Odysseus, who has now won three of his four career starts, earned $180,000 for capturing the Grade 3 Tampa Derby, which should give him more than enough graded earnings to give him a spot in the Kentucky Derby field.
"I want to see how he trains the next two weeks before making any decisions on whether we need to run him back again or just sit and wait for the Derby," said Albertrani.
Maragh also thought Odysseus had fallen just short of victory.
"Getting past the wire I said to Jeremy I think you won it," Maragh said referring to Jeremy Rose on Schoolyard Dreams. "He thought so too, so it was a surprise when they put our number up. I think this horse can run as far as they write the race. A mile and one-quarter in the Derby is not going to bother him."
The final decision was extremely disappointing for the connections of Schoolyard Dreams, trainer Derek Ryan and owner Eric Fein. Ryan had won last year's Tampa Bay Derby with Musket Man and Fein had won the previous two runnings of the race with Big Truck and Musket Man.
The all-sources handle of $10,807,264 was a record for a 12-race program at Tampa Bay Downs.