Is this the year a Grade III Sam F. Davis winner enters the most hallowed ground in racing on the first Saturday in May? Next Saturday starts to tell; jockey Antonio Gallardo is beginning to roll, with six victories in two days and 10 since Sunday.
After winning the 2006 Sam F. Davis Stakes and finishing second in the (then)-Grade III Tampa Bay Derby, Bluegrass Cat rallied for a second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, behind the ill-fated Barbaro.
That’s the closest a Sam F. Davis entrant has come to winning the Run for the Roses, but the law of averages suggests that drought could end in the near future (wishful thinking, admittedly, by Tampa Bay Downs officials, and completely discarding the Bob Baffert factor). Since 2004, the Sam F. Davis – which achieved Grade III status in 2009 –has produced at least one Kentucky Derby starter in all but two years.
In the last three years alone, the $250,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis has yielded a Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and Belmont Stakes winner in Tapwrit; a Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner, Belmont runner-up and multiple-Grade II winner in Destin; a Grade I winner on both dirt and turf in Catholic Boy; and McCraken, who set a then-track record of 1:42.45 in the 2017 Sam F. Davis and just missed that summer in the Grade I betfair.com Haskell Invitational.
And Bluegrass Cat didn’t fare too badly after the Kentucky Derby, finishing second in the Belmont and Travers and winning the Haskell Invitational.
So when a group of 3-year-old colts enters the starting gate on Saturday, Feb. 9 for this year’s Sam F. Davis, it’s important to remember this is an early sophomore prep and that several (most, in fact, if their trainers have their way) are still maturing physically and mentally toward peak career performances.
Inaugurated in 1981, the same year as the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, the Sam F. Davis has been won by a veritable “who’s-who” of trainers: Todd Pletcher (six times), Nick Zito, John Terranova, II, Kiaran McLaughlin, Ian Wilkes and Mark Casse. Their fondness for the track’s deep, sand-based surface that promotes fitness and endurance is further proof of the race’s importance, as is its status as a “Road to the Kentucky Derby Prep Season” points race.
The 145th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs is May 4.
The Sam F. Davis is the centerpiece of Festival Preview Day 39 Presented by Lambholm South, with four stakes worth a cool $750,000 in purse money, three of the graded-stakes variety. Among those confirmed as likely to compete are Grade I winner Knicks Go, from the barn of Ben Colebrook, who breezed 4 furlongs this morning in 48 seconds flat.
Also confirmed as likely participants are trainer Arnaud Delacour’s Five Star General, a stakes winner at Aqueduct last fall, who breezed 5 furlongs here Tuesday in 1:01 1/5; and Pletcher’s So Alive, a conditional allowance winner here on Jan. 6 and a son of Pletcher’s 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, who finished third in that year’s Tampa Bay Derby.
Also confirmed as likely Sam F. Davis starters are H. Graham Motion’s Still Dreaming; Kentucky Wildcat, trained by Thomas Albertrani; Counter Offer, trained by Wilkes; and Cave Run, trained by Eoin Harty.
Kathleen O’Connell’s stakes winner Well Defined, Pletcher’s Country House and Bill Mott’s Tacitus are currently listed as possible Sam F. Davis starters.
A pair of Grade III turf stakes are on tap on Festival Preview Day 39 Presented by Lambholm South – the $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour for fillies and mares 4-years-old and upward and the $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward. Both are at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth.
Delacour is expected to start a pair of 6-year-old mares in the Lambholm South Endeavour, Ireland-bred Hawksmoor and Bombshell. Others confirmed as likely Endeavour starters are 5-year-old I’m Betty G, trained by Michael Maker; French-bred 4-year-old filly La Signare, from the barn of Brian Lynch; 4-year-old Monte Crista, trained by Michael Trombetta; She’s Pretty Lucky, a 4-year-old trained by Eddie Kenneally; 5-year-old Viva Vegas, from the barn of Ignacio Correas, IV; and Bonnie Arch, a 6-year-old conditioned by Wilkes. French-bred 5-year-old Rymska, trained by Chad Brown, is currently listed as a possible starter.
At the risk of delivering the proverbial “kiss of death,” the 6-year-old Qurbaan, owned by Shadwell Stable and trained by McLaughlin, looms as a standout for the Tampa Bay Stakes, should he compete. He won the Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga last summer in his first start stateside and subsequently posted a third and a second against topnotch graded competition.
The multiple-Grade I-winning Ontario-bred Heart to Heart, trained by Lynch, might have much to say about that, though (he won the 2017 Bernard Baruch and has career earnings in excess of $2-million).
Other likely starters, as of today, include trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III’s Inspector Lynley, who won the 2017 Tampa Bay Stakes in thrilling fashion; Kelly Rubley’s 7-year-old Divisidero; 4-year-old Admiralty Pier, trained by Barbara Minshall; 7-year-old gelding Irish Strait, trained by Motion; Machtree, a 4-year-old gelding from the barn of Colebrook; and My Bariley, a 5-year-old gelding conditioned by Anthony Granitz.
The fourth stakes on the card is the $150,000 Suncoast for 3-year-old fillies, a “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points race. The Kentucky Oaks is May 3.
These youngsters, similar to most of the Sam F. Davis probables, are lightly raced but full of promise, the type that often is revealed as they stretch out to the Suncoast distance of a mile-and-40 yards.
One possible Suncoast starter who has already established a serious set of bona fides is Positive Spirit, from the barn of trainer Rodolphe Brisset, who won last season’s Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby with Quip.
Positive Spirit won the Grade II Demoiselle, a mile-and-an-eighth event, by 10 ½ lengths at Aqueduct on Dec. 1 in her most recent start, and her appearance here would cast a different light on the race. She has turned in some nice workouts recently at Payson Park Training Center in Indiantown; stay tuned.
The current intended Suncoast starters include Her Royal Highness, from the barn of Motion; Another Time, trained by Minshall; Here Comes Jackie, conditioned by Mike Dini; and Point of Honor, an impressive maiden winner at Gulfstream first time out in a mile-and-a-sixteenth event taken off the turf, trained by George Weaver.
Also, Sweet Diane, with a victory and two seconds, trained by Michael Stidham; Tapit’s Princess, a Happy Alter-trainee; Twixt and Shout, from the barn of Harty; and Winning Envelope, a two-time winner trained by Chris Block.
Around the oval. Antonio Gallardo rode three winners today, giving him six over the last two days and 10 over the last four racing days. Gallardo won the first race on Konza Kandy, a 3-year-old Kansas-bred filly bred and owned by Asiel Stables and trained by Carlos H. Silva. Gallardo added the sixth race on the turf aboard And Won, a 4-year-old Florida-bred ridgling owned by In The Green Stables and trained by Anthony Granitz.
The Spaniard wrapped up his second consecutive hat trick in the 10th and final race on the turf on Rhythmia, a 3-year-old gelding bred in Florida by Vegso Racing Stable, owned by Vegso Racing Stable and trained by Dale Bennett.
Thoroughbred racing continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:40 p.m. The track 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.