Anticipation is building to a fever pitch for the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds at Tampa Bay Downs, one of three official Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands prep races scheduled across the nation for Saturday.
The Davis is the focal point of Festival Preview Day, which marks the first time in the track’s 87-year history three graded stakes will be contested on the same card. The others are the Grade III, $150,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on the turf and the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf. Entries will be taken Wednesday in the racing office for all three races, each to be run at a mile-and-a-sixteenth.
The Sam F. Davis is part of the new points system being employed by Churchill Downs to determine which 20 horses qualify for the 139th running of the $2-million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 4. Churchill Downs had used graded-stakes earnings as the criteria since 1986.
The Davis is one of 36 stakes races comprising the points race and one of 19 races in the “Kentucky Derby Prep Season” category. As such, it will award 10 points to the winner, four to the second-place finisher, two to third and one to fourth.
A total of 17 races, including the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 9, comprise the “Kentucky Derby Championship Series,” with the Tampa Bay Derby falling into the First Leg and awarding 50 points to the winner, 20 to second, 10 to third and five to fourth.
Currently, Shanghai Bobby and Goldencents are tied for first with 24 points, followed by Oxbow with 11 and eight horses with 10 points, including Itsmyluckyday, who upset Shanghai Bobby in Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream.
First run in 1981, the same year as the Tampa Bay Derby, the Davis has generally been viewed as a prep race for the latter event, which is the showcase of Tampa Bay Downs’ Festival Day.
But the Davis has proved to be a stepping stone to bigger and better things beyond Oldsmar for numerous horses since at least 2005, when the Nick Zito-trained Andromeda’s Hero followed a Davis triumph four starts later by finishing second to Afleet Alex in the Belmont Stakes.
The following year, Bluegrass Cat won the Davis for trainer Todd Pletcher and followed up by finishing second in the Tampa Bay Derby, the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont and the Travers and winning the Haskell.
In 2007, Pletcher’s Any Given Saturday won the Davis, finished second to eventual Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in a rousing Tampa Bay Derby and later won the Grade II Dwyer, the Grade I Haskell and the Grade II Brooklyn. And in 2009, Davis champ General Quarters, owned by Thomas McCarthy, won the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass and, the following year, the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.
The Davis closed with 54 nominations, including seven from the barn of Zito and three from Pletcher, who has won the Davis four of the past seven years.
Saturday’s other Kentucky Derby preps are the Grade II, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita and the Grade III, $200,000 Withers at Aqueduct.
Trainer Carlos Garcia saddled back-to-back winners on Sunday’s card. In the seventh race, he sent out Robert Gerczak’s 5-year-old gelding Fleeter to win a seven-furlong claiming race under jockey Dean Butler. Fleeter was claimed for $16,000 from the event by trainer Jane Cibelli for new owner John Falcone.
Garcia’s winner in the eighth race, 4-year-old gelding Shadow Shogun, broke his maiden for owner Hillwood Stable LLC. Angel Serpa rode the winner.
In the ninth race, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week, 4-year-old filly Empire Desire from the Newtown Anner Stud rallied to defeat Her Majesty The Queen’s 4-year-old Dawn Glory at a mile on the turf in a maiden special weight affair. The winner is trained by Cibelli and was ridden by Jose L. Espinoza.
The 3-7-6-2-4 Super High-5 combination in the ninth paid $3,840.40 to winning ticket holders.
A day after saddling Lightning City Stakes winner Smartys Emperoress for the mare’s regular trainer, Eric Reed, at odds of 16-1, trainer James I. Spicknall sent out 26-1 shot Officer’s Duty to capture Sunday’s fourth race, a mile-and-a-sixteenth maiden claimer on the turf.
The 3-year-old colt, owned by Juan O. Ramos and ridden by Ademar Santos, paid $55.80. It was one of two victories on the day for Santos, who moved to sixth place at the meet with 12 winners.
Tampa Bay Downs currently conducts live Thoroughbred racing five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday. First-race post time for Wednesday is 12:38 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.