Undefeated Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old Hansen is among 33 horses nominated for the 32nd running of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the centerpiece of the Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South racing card Feb. 4 at Tampa Bay Downs.
The Sam F. Davis, considered a major stepping stone for 3-year-old Triple Crown candidates and a precursor to the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10, is run at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has saddled four of the past six Davis winners for WinStar Farm – including Brethren in 2011 and Rule in 2010 – has nominated six to this year’s Davis.
Also on tap for Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South are the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up at about a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf and the $150,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf.
Hansen, who worked five furlongs Sunday at Gulfstream Park in a snappy 59.81 seconds, earned his Eclipse Award on the basis of his thrilling head victory from favored Union Rags in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5. Previously, Hansen won the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park by more than 13 lengths and was 3-for-3 on the season.
A grey son of Tapit out of the Sir Cat mare Stormy Sunday, Hansen is owned by his breeder, Dr. Kendall Hansen, in partnership with Sky Chai Racing and is trained by Michael Maker.
Pletcher’s half-dozen nominees are headed by Big Blue Nation, a son of 2006 Sam F. Davis winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up Bluegrass Cat. Big Blue Nation finished third in the Sept. 5 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga in his second and final start of 2011.
Pletcher has also nominated a son of Pulpit, El Padrino, who finished a fast-closing third in the Nov. 26 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct; and Discreet Dancer, who boasts two recent victories at Gulfstream to start his career by a combined 15 ¼ lengths.
Other top conditioners nominating to the Sam F. Davis include Nick Zito, Bob Baffert, Jerry Hollendorfer, H. Graham Motion, Dale Romans and John Servis. Motion’s nominee, State of Play, is a Grade II winner on turf, having annexed the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 1. Motion trained 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.
The Davis could feature a return engagement among three of the top four finishers in the Jan. 14 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Pasco winner Prospective, from the barn of Mark Casse; third-place finisher Adirondack King, trained by Servis; and fourth-place finisher Burning Time, trained by David Fawkes, are all candidates for Davis glory.
Other intriguing nominees include the first three finishers in the Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1. Reveron, a son of Songandaprayer trained by Agustin Bezara, won the mile-and-a-sixteenth event, with Zito’s Casual Trick a half-length behind in second and Romans’ King Kid third.
The 13th renewal of the Endeavour Stakes has attracted 40 nominations from the stables of such leading trainers as 2011 Eclipse Award winner William Mott, Motion, Christophe Clement, Thomas Proctor, Claude “Shug” McGaughey and Wayne Catalano.
Among the most accomplished Endeavour candidates are the French-bred 5-year-old Zagora, who won the Grade I Diana Stakes at Saratoga in July for owner Martin Schwartz and trainer Chad Brown, and another runner from the barn of Pletcher, 5-year-old mare Awesome Maria, who has compiled most of her $800,000 plus in earnings on dirt.
Awesome Maria won four consecutive races to end her 2011 campaign, capped by the June 18 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont, and has been working steadily at Palm Meadows in Boynton Beach in anticipation of her 2012 debut.
Clement has nominated four, including 6-year-old Denomination, who finished third in last year’s Endeavour and returned four weeks later to win the Hillsborough, her first of three Grade III victories.
McGaughey’s nominee, the Chilean-bred 6-year-old Casablanca Smile, has finished first or second in 13 of her 18 career starts and returned following a lengthy layoff to capture the Dec. 2 La Prevoyante at Calder. Proctor has high hopes for Keertana, an 11-time winner who closed her 2011 campaign with back-to-back Grade III victories in the Bewitched and Louisville Handicaps.
The 29th edition of the Florida Oaks, which was run on turf for the first time last year, has drawn 26 nominations. Dynamic Holiday was the winner for Augustin Stable and Motion. The conditioner is eligible to repeat with Debby Oxley’s Sweet Seventeen, who has been second in her previous two outings, both stakes, after winning her first two career starts.
More Than Love, who won the Grade III Miesque Stakes on Nov. 25 at Hollywood Park, has been nominated to the Oaks by trainer John Terranova II for owner Newtown Anner Stud. Another Grade III winner to be nominated is the John Oxley-owned Northern Passion, trained by Mark Casse. She won the Sept. 17 Natalma Stakes at Woodbine before running seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Casse has nominated two additional John Oxley-owned fillies for the Florida Oaks. Delightful Magic, who finished a game second in the Jan. 14 Gasparilla Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, and Dixie Strike, winner of the Dec. 3 Ontario Lassie at Woodbine, complete the Oxley-Casse trifecta of nominees.
The Pick-5 jackpot was hit Sunday, with all five correct (9-10-2-2-4) paying $34,283.70 on a 50-cent wager. The late Pick-4 paid $28,736.10 on a 50-cent wager. Live racing resumes at Tampa Bay Downs on Wednesday, with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. There will be a Super High-5 carryover of $6,008.79. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker in the Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.