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Although the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes is a prep race for the Tampa Bay Derby five weeks later, it has become a major race in its own right, producing at least one Kentucky Derby starter in nine of the last 10 years.
This year, it could represent the first step on a 3-year-old’s journey to a $1-million bonus – and a lucky fan’s pathway to a $100,000 payday.
The connections of 43 sophomore colts and geldings have taken notice, nominating their 3-year-olds to the 34th running of the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Festival Preview Day, Feb. 1.
The Davis, run at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track, is the centerpiece of a powerhouse card that includes the 28th edition of the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes for older horses at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf course and the 34th renewal of the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40 yards on the main track.
The Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus, inaugurated this season, rewards a cool million to the owner of any horse that wins the Davis, the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 8 and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 3.
And a single fan who correctly picks the Davis winner stands to collect $100,000 if that horse goes on to win the Tampa Bay Derby and the Kentucky Derby (more on that below).
Since the Davis and Tampa Bay Derby were first run in 1981, five horses have won both races, although none of them competed at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May – when there was not an added $1-million at stake.
Todd Pletcher, who was honored Saturday night with a record sixth Eclipse Award as Outstanding Trainer for 2013, has nominated eight horses to the Davis in his effort to win the race for an unprecedented fifth time. His most accomplished prospect is Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Ontario-bred colt We Miss Artie, who as a 2-year-old won the Grade I Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October and finished seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita while beaten only four lengths.
The Ramseys, who won a pair of Eclipse Awards on Saturday as Outstanding Breeders and Outstanding Owners, have nominated five horses to the Davis.
Four are trained by Michael Maker, including Vicar’s in Trouble, who won the Grade III LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 18.
Other trainers with multiple Davis nominees include Wayne Catalano, with three; and Richard Violette, Jr., Stanley Gold, Mark Casse, Chad Brown, Dale Romans and William Kaplan, each with two.
 A few other top nominees, based on their past accomplishments, include Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity winner Solitary Ranger, trained by Catalano; Ontario-bred stakes winner Asserting Bear, from the stable of trainer Reade Baker; Grade II-placed Financial Mogul, trained by Violette; Gulfstream Park Derby winner General a Rod, trained by Maker; the Casse-trained Matador, who won the Cup and Saucer Stakes at Woodbine in October; Grade III winner Poker Player, from the barn of Catalano; and unbeaten (3-for-3) New York-bred stakes winner Samraat, trained by Violette.
The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes closed with 33 nominations, including five trained by Maker and four from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer William Mott. The best in Maker’s barn is 4-year-old colt Admiral Kitten, who won the Grade I Secretariat Stakes at Arlington in August and was second in his next two races, both Grade I affairs.
Mott’s most intriguing nominee to the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes is Irish-bred 5-year-old Amira’s Prince, owned by Wachtel Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Gary Barber. He is on a four-race winning streak, including a pair of Grade II turf races last year at Fair Grounds.
The Suncoast Stakes has drawn 21 nominees, led by Amaty Racing Stables’ Florida-bred filly Nesso, who won the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes here on Jan. 4. Nesso is trained by Herman Wilensky.
Other impressive Suncoast nominees are a pair of Grade II-placed fillies: the maiden Got Lucky, from the barn of Pletcher, and Bird Maker, trained by Ian Wilkes.
NOW, here is how the Lambholm South $100,000 Fan Bonus contest works:
Upon entering the racetrack on Festival Preview Day, fans will fill out an entry blank with their name, address and contact information and be asked to drop it into a box corresponding with their choice for the Sam F. Davis Stakes. Entrants must be 18 or older.
Once the race result is made official, the winning jockey will draw a name from the appropriate box. That person will become eligible for the Lambholm South $100,000 Fan Bonus, payable if the Davis winner goes on to win the Tampa Bay Derby and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
In the case of a Davis dead heat, both winning jockeys will draw a name from their respective bins, with both winning fans remaining eligible for the fan bonus and associated rewards.
The individual(s) drawn to be eligible for the bonus will receive free clubhouse dining room admission and lunch for the Tampa Bay Derby for a party of six, regardless of whether the Sam F. Davis Stakes-winning horse competes in the Tampa Bay Derby.
All other fans correctly selecting the Sam F. Davis Stakes winner who are registered for the drawing will be mailed a Tampa Bay Downs gift package.
The Feb. 1 Festival Preview Day card also signals the start of the inaugural “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest, which has drawn widespread attention throughout the Thoroughbred racing industry. Registration is free for the online competition, which offers $3,000 in cash prizes and a seat at the 2015 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship (date and site to be determined) to the first-place winner.
The contest runs every day through Saturday, April 5, which is Florida Cup Day. Players make a mythical $2 win-place-show wager on a single horse in one of each day’s two challenge races, and the player’s bankroll accrues throughout based on official pari-mutuel payoffs, with strikes being assessed for an out-of-the-money finish. Three strikes end a player’s participation, although she/he remains in the running for the $500 prize given to the player selecting the most winners.
Complete rules and eligibility requirements are available at the online site. Registration may be accessed through a link on the track website at www.tampabaydowns.com or by visiting the contest website directly at www.liveitupchallenge.com
On today’s card, jockey Antonio Gallardo booted home two winners. Gallardo won the third race on 3-year-old colt Rock Diamond for owner Acclaimed Racing Stable and trainer Ralph Ziadie and returned to the winner’s circle after the 10th on 4-year-old gelding Chuffed to Bits for owner Signal Hill Farms and trainer Henry Collazo.
Racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

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