by Mike Henry

Eight 3-year-olds from Saturday’s Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, including Stonestreet Stables, LLC’s unbeaten winner Ocean Knight, are among 429 Thoroughbreds that have been made eligible to compete in the Triple Crown through the early-nomination stage.

The number of early nominees for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, the Preakness and the Belmont is up 3.6 percent from 2014. Each nominee required a $600 payment. The early-nomination stage ran from Dec. 20-Jan. 17.

A late-nomination period for the Triple Crown will run through March 23. Late nominations must be accompanied by a $6,000 payment.

Ocean Knight – who rallied under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., to defeat pacesetter Divining Rod by a neck in 1:43.74 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth – won the Sam F. Davis from the No. 11 post despite running 49 more feet than Divining Rod, according to information from the Trakus Network technology system.

The son of two-time Horse of the Year and National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame member Curlin had broken his maiden in a six-furlong maiden race at Aqueduct in New York on Dec. 13, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 93 that was superior to any of his Sam F. Davis rivals’ best efforts entering the race.

Ocean Knight earned another 93 Saturday and is among the leading candidates for the Oldsmar oval’s Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on the track’s Festival Day, March 7.

Curlin, who did not race as a 2-year-old, won his first three starts, including victories in the Grade III Rebel Stakes and the then-Grade II Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. He finished third in the 2007 Kentucky Derby, then derailed the Triple Crown ambitions of Street Sense with a head victory in the Preakness.

Late-season victories in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic propelled Curlin to the first of his consecutive Horse of the Year crowns.

Ocean Knight is out of the Stormy Atlantic mare Ocean Goddess, who posted a 3-for-11 career mark while racing exclusively in New York.

Ocean Knight is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, whose numerous accomplishments include a Belmont victory with Jazil in 2006; a Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge triumph the same year with Invasor; Lahudood’s 2007 victory in the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf; and a second in the 2005 Kentucky Derby with Closing Argument.

Also nominated to the Triple Crown from the Sam F. Davis are third-place finisher My Johnny Be Good and sixth-place finisher Crittenden, both from the Eoin Harty barn; fourth-place finisher Ami’s Flatter, trained by Josie Caroll; seventh-place finisher Royal Son and 12th-place finisher G Five, both trained by Todd Pletcher; eighth-place finisher Coomer, trained by Michael Maker; and ninth-place finisher Bears Personality, trained by Reade Baker.

Arnaud Delacour, the trainer of Lael Stables’ Divining Rod, said he plans to point the Tapit offspring to the Tampa Bay Derby and that the connections could elect to make him a late Triple Crown nominee if warranted.

The Sam F. Davis Stakes has produced at least one Kentucky Derby starter in 10 of the last 11 years.

Also nominated to the Triple Crown were the second and third-place finishers from Saturday’s second race, a $23,000 maiden special weight affair at a mile-and-40-yards. Stonestreet and McLaughlin nominated the race’s runner-up, Good Pick Nick, a son of Tapit-Mayan Milagra, by Menifee.

Breeder-owner Siena Farms LLC and trainer Todd Pletcher nominated the third-place finisher, Carajillo, by Medaglia d’Oro out of Prospective Saint.

Heading the early Triple Crown nominations list are the ridgling American Pharoah and the filly Take Charge Brandi, last year’s Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-olds, and Texas Red, the colt who won last year’s Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

February schedule takes hold. Beginning this week, Tampa Bay Downs will conduct Thoroughbred racing five days a week – Wednesday through Sunday – throughout the month of February.

Leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo and Brian Pedroza rode two winners apiece today. Gallardo, who has 61 victories at the meeting, won the first race on 5-year-old gelding Better Man for owner-trainer Christos Gatis.

He added the sixth on 5-year-old gelding Ghost Hunter for owner Jagger, Inc., and trainer Jamie Ness, who also posted two victories.

Pedroza scored in the second race on 8-year-old gelding Thunder Lord for Ness and owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc. Pedroza returned to the winner’s circle after the eighth on 3-year-old filly Westbrook Sunset for owner Nicholas Downes and trainer Grover C. Wheeler, Jr.

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.