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Winning a record fifth edition of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds was no easy task for reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher.
But he almost made it six Davises (to go with his record six Eclipse Awards) when 12-1 shot Vinceremos and winning jockey Edgar Prado held off a charging Harpoon – the other Pletcher entry – by a diminishing nose in the eight-horse field in the 34th edition of the mile-and-a-sixteenth race at Tampa Bay Downs.
“A dead heat would have been perfect,” Pletcher assistant Ginny DePasquale said.
By winning, Vinceremos owners WinStar Farm, LLC and Twin Creeks Racing Stables, LLC become eligible for the Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus, payable if Vinceremos goes on to win the Grade III, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 8 and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 3.
And Tampa Bay Downs’ fan Ben Wheelock of Hudson, Fla., who correctly selected Vinceremos, had his name drawn by the Hall of Famer Prado after the race to become eligible for the Lambholm South $100,000 Fan Bonus, should Vinceremos complete the three-race sweep.
The Davis was the centerpiece of the track’s Festival Preview Day card that included long shot Guys Reward’s victory in the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf and 3-year-old filly Please Explain’s easy victory in the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes.
Pletcher’s previous four Davis winners were all owned by WinStar Farm, owned by Kenny Troutt and managed by Elliott Walden.
“It’s too early to think about what’s next,” a cautious Pletcher told the Daily Racing Form by telephone. “Everything is in play, like always. You can certainly make a case for going back to Tampa with one, or both of them. Both horses are still learning, and Harpoon was a little green inside with the dirt hitting him in the face. I thought once (jockey Luis Saez) got him angled outside, he closed very well; unfortunately for him, when he angled out they fanned him way out.
“Vinceremos has a little trouble once he makes the lead figuring out how to close it out, but he’s a horse with some quality and to win a race like this in his third start and first time around two turns is pretty impressive,” Pletcher added about the Kentucky-bred colt, a son of Pioneerof the Nile-Kettle’s Sister. The winner’s time on a fast but perhaps not entirely fast track after several days of rain was a less-than-sensational 1:47.34.
Vinceremos is now 2-for-3 with a second. The winner’s share of $120,000 raised his earnings to $153,600.
Prado rode Vinceremos with confidence and knowledge acquired from his two previous races and was duly rewarded.
“He was relaxed and I was confident that he would be there for me when I asked,” Prado said. “The pace picked up getting into the turn but I didn’t want to use what we had that soon so I let them get away from us. Entering the stretch there was still room on the inside and he responded when I set him down. He was still going strong to the finish, but I knew it would be close.”
While Pletcher was understandably noncommittal for now about pursuing the $1-million bonus, Randy Gullatt, racing manager for co-owner Twin Creeks Racing Stables who attended with his wife Kim, was decidedly more optimistic about the prospect of returning to Oldsmar in five weeks.
“I would think the (Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby) is the next logical race and if he is doing well, that would be Todd’s choice,” Gullatt said. “We are learning about this horse every time. Edgar didn’t want to make the lead too quick with him because he wants to wait on other horses. If he has a target, Edgar says he digs in, and you just have to be patient and not make the lead too quick.”
DePasquale thought Vinceremos might be ready to pack it in on the turn after vying for the lead early with Cousin Stephen, who finished third, and Asserting Bear, who finished fifth behind Matador.
 “That was really amazing. It looked like he was dropping back and was done for the day, and all of a sudden there he was,” DePasquale said. “You never know when they are going to step up to the plate and he obviously did at the right time.”
Class told the story in the 28th running of the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf, where Guys Reward ran down 1-2 favorite Salto from the Pletcher barn to post a length-and-a-half victory and pay $31.60.
Guys Reward’s previous victory was in the Grade II Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs in July of 2012, but the 7-year-old horse powered past Salto late for owner Michael Bruder and trainer Dale Romans. Guys Reward, a Kentucky-bred son of Grand Reward-Beach View, was ridden by Abdiel Jaen.
Golden Sabre rallied late to finish third in the nine-horse field. The winner’s time on yielding turf for the eight-and-a-half furlongs was 1:43.44.
“I was a little leery of the soft going, but the assistant superintendent here (Scott Moore) seemed to think it was pretty good, maybe a little soft in the turns. So I decided to go ahead and run him,” said Bruder, who has earned $650,312 since purchasing Guys Reward as a yearling.
“I’m sure Dale (Romans) was confident or he would have sent him somewhere else. I knew when he made his move in the stretch he was going to win. He has had some hoof issues but we finally got him to where he was right.”
Tampa Bay Downs trainer Rob O’Connor, who saddled Guys Reward, was ecstatic at the result. “I told Mr. Bruder when (Jaen) laid him down, you could see him plane out and take off,” O’Connor said. “He got hold of the track real well. Dale did a great job training him and they did a great job with this turf course, with all the rain we’ve had.”
“Mr. Romans told me this guy would run a big one today but only if I gave him a loose rein and let him get settled and not worry about what the leaders were doing,” said Jaen, a former contract rider for Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. “We saved all the ground until the turn and then he fired up going around horses. It felt like we had lots of run left. Mr. Romans has been a big help to me and I am really happy to win a graded race for him.”
Trainer Tom Proctor has been around too long to think his 3-year-old filly Please Explain was a sure thing in the 34th running of the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes.
But following her impressive maiden victory on Dec. 19 at Gulfstream after a couple of close calls, and watching her train over the Tampa Bay Downs surface the past two weeks, Proctor expected the type of effort the Kentucky-bred daughter of Curlin-Lizzy’s Bluff produced.
“If you go somewhere, you have to be able to beat these kind of horses, even though I thought (runner-up Nesso, the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes winner on Jan. 4) had some quality,” Proctor said after Please Explain’s dominating six-length victory under jockey Julien Leparoux.
“There were a couple that scratched that I was a little more concerned about. I was going to run her in an other-than mile allowance at Gulfstream, but this filly looks like she wants to go two turns, and a couple of workouts over this track means a lot,” Proctor added.
Please Explain completed the mile-and-40-yard distance on a fast track in 1:44.94. Nesso finished a neck ahead of Light Bringer for second, with Runway Giant fourth in the eight-horse field.
Please Explain was bred in Kentucky by Donard Niall and Michael Niall of Australia and races for the Nialls and Tim Turney of Shamrock Glen Farm in Versailles, Ky., under the partner’s Niall Racing banner. “We’re pretty tickled with the way she ran,” Turney said after her second victory in five starts. “Tom has done a great job with her and we’ve kind of taken our time and tried to put her in the right spots.
“She’ll tell us where she needs to go next. That’s why we pay Tom to do what he does – I try not to get in his way too much.”
Leparoux rode Please Explain with his customary skill and patience and was able to wrap up on her late with victory assured. “I had a lot of confidence in her after that win at Gulfstream,” Leparoux said. “When she broke well I was able to drop in behind the lead group and just wait on them. We were inside every step, there was room entering the stretch and she just went through and got past the leader easily.”
Beginning on Wednesday, Tampa Bay Downs will conduct Thoroughbred racing five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday, through March 2. 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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