A number of Triple Crown candidates, including the highly regarded colt Locked from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, are in the midst of final preparations for Saturday’s Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds at Tampa Bay Downs.
The Sam F. Davis is one of four main-track stakes on the track’s Festival Day Preview 44 card. It is a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race, with the top five finishers receiving 20-10-6-4-2 points toward qualifying for a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
After an excitement-packed day of competition on “Turf Champions Day,” Tampa Bay Downs Stakes Coordinator Autumn Charley is crafting deep, quality fields for the mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis and the day’s three other stakes: the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, the $100,000 Pelican Stakes for male sprinters 4-years-old-and-upward and the $50,000 Minaret Stakes for older filly and mare sprinters.
Based on the early returns she has received from trainers, Charley is on track to present a memorable Festival Preview Day that will impact major events going forward, including the Grade III, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-olds on March 9.
All fans need to do is keep their fingers crossed for a repeat of Saturday’s beautiful sunny weather, sharpen their pencils and start handicapping.
Locked, who finished third in last year’s FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Santa Anita after winning the Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, is the standout among the probable Sam F. Davis starters. Pletcher has found Tampa Bay Downs and the Sam F. Davis an ideal starting point to launch numerous successful sophomore campaigns, winning the race a record seven times, including last year with Litigate.
Owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Walmac Farm, Locked is a son of Gun Runner, the 2017 Horse of the Year and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner who finished third in the previous year’s Kentucky Derby. Locked, who has been ridden in all four career starts by Jose Ortiz, has been working out steadily at Pletcher’s Palm Beach Downs base in Delray Beach to get ready for his 2024 debut.
Pletcher is also expected to send Tireless to Oldsmar for the Sam F. Davis. Also based at Palm Beach Downs, he broke his maiden here on Jan. 14 going a mile-and-40-yards.
Charley expects no shortage of challengers to the Pletcher duo. That group includes Patriot Spirit, who won the Inaugural Stakes here on Dec. 2, from the barn of trainer Michael Campbell; Grade III winner West Saratoga, trainer Larry Demeritte’s Pasco Stakes runner-up on Jan. 13; trainer Gregg Sacco’s Crazy Mason, second in the Inaugural and a recent allowance/optional claiming winner; multiple-stakes winner Copper Tax, trained by Gary Capuano; Change of Command, a winner of two straight from the barn of Hall of Famer Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III; and No More Time, trained by Jose Francisco D’Angelo.
The Suncoast Stakes, contested at a distance of a mile-and-40-yards, is a “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points race, offering 20-10-6-4-2 points to the first five finishers as they attempt to secure a spot in the 3-year-old fillies classic on May 3 at Churchill.
Pletcher is expected to send a daughter of Gun Runner, Life Talk, who is owned by Repole Stable. It’s logical to assume this is a very serious talent, given that she has been ridden in all five career starts by superstar Irad Ortiz, Jr. (Jose’s brother), winner of five of the last six Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Jockey.
Life Talk did her part in creating buzz on Dec. 2, winning the Grade II, mile-and-an-eighth Demoiselle Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Aqueduct to improve to 2-for-5. She was fourth in last year’s NetJets Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and third in the Grade I Frizette Stakes at the Belmont At The Big A meet.
Among the expected challengers are stakes winner Power Squeeze, trained by Jorge Delgado; Whocouldaskformo, trained by McGaughey; conditioner Tim Hamm’s maiden winner America’s Vow; and Sweet Hazely, trained by Paul Valery.
The 6-furlong Pelican Stakes could see the return to Oldsmar of 6-year-old gelding Sibelius, who won last year’s running in a time of 1:08.75, .08 seconds off the track record. In his next start, the Jeremiah O’Dwyer-trained speedster won the lucrative Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Nakheel at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates.
Sibelius returned to the winner’s circle on Dec. 23 at Gulfstream Park in the Grade III, 7-furlong Mr. Prospector Stakes, and the Pelican could be the right race at the right time for him.
Certainly, there will be no shortage of serious challengers. The 5-year-old Little Vic, trained by Juan Carlos Avila, is a proven Grade III winner, and 8-year-old Long Range Toddy, from the barn of Victor Barboza, Jr., won the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park – five years ago, when he was on the Kentucky Derby trail. He has won two of his last three starts and was fourth in the Mr. Prospector, while never threatening Sibelius.
D’Angelo is expected to send 6-year-old Caramel Chip, winner of three of his last four starts, and Run Classic, off since a dead-heat victory on May 4 at Churchill Downs. Chilean-bred 6-year-old Super Ocho, trained by Amador Merei Sanchez, and Hurricane J, a 4-year-old trained by Delgado, could also join the party.
Patriot Spirit’s trainer Michael Campbell plans to start 4-year-old filly Lady Radler, also owned by Mellon Patch, Inc., in the 6-furlong Minaret. Third here last season in the Sandpiper Stakes, she won the Grade III Dogwood Stakes at 7 furlongs on Sept. 23 at Churchill Downs.
Other likely Minaret starters include stakes-winning 4-year-old Unifying, trained by Riley Mott; trainer Kathleen O’Connell’s duo of 4-year-old Florida-bred Dream Concert, second in two stakes at the current meet, and 5-year-old Poiema; Night Cap, a 6-year-old mare trained by Gerald Bennett who is 9-for-18 lifetime; and 4-year-old Flag Woman, trained by D’Angelo.
Around the oval. The trio of owner Winner Circle Stables, trainer Gregg Sacco and jockey Samy Camacho won back-to-back races today. They captured the fourth with 6-year-old gelding Worlds On High and the fifth with 3-year-old filly Copper Bound.
Winner Circle owner Bobby Sands is active in re-homing his horses after their racing careers with retirement organizations and groups that prepare racehorses for second careers.
Thoroughbred racing continues Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:23 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule and is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.