by Mike Henry

Tampa Bay Downs joins the Triple Crown trail Saturday with the 42nd running of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race for 3-year-olds competing at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track.

A full field of 12 is expected for the Sam F. Davis, one of four dirt stakes on a Festival Preview Day card offering $550,000 in stakes purse money. Also scheduled are the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes, a “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points race for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40-yards; the $100,000 Pelican Stakes, a 6-furlong sprint for horses 4-years-old-and-upward; and the $50,000 Minaret Stakes, for fillies and mares 4-and-upward at 6 furlongs.

For the Sam F. Davis entrants, the race marks the first major test to determine if they are worthy of staying on the path to Louisville for the May 7 Run for the Roses. The Sam F. Davis awards points to the first four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 starters.

The Sam F. Davis is also the main prep race for the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, one of five stakes races – four graded – on the track’s March 12 Festival Day card. The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby awards 50 points to the winner on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby,” with the next three finishers earning 20, 10 and 5 points.

Entries for Festival Preview Day will be taken Wednesday in the Tampa Bay Downs Racing Office.

Probables for the Sam F. Davis include Red Oak Stable’s Florida-bred colt Make It Big, who was 3-for-3 as a 2-year-old for trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr. Make It Big won the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes on Dec. 17 at Remington Park in his most recent start.

Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse is expected to enter both Conrad Farms’s colt Golden Glider and Breeze Easy, LLC’s colt Volcanic. Golden Glider won a mile-and-40-yard allowance/optional claiming race on Jan. 7 at Tampa Bay Downs to improve to 2-for-2, while Volcanic broke his maiden on Jan. 8 going a mile at Gulfstream Park.

Other Sam F. Davis probables include Albaugh Family Stables, LLC’s colt Howling Time, a stakes winner from the barn of Dale Romans; the Brian Lynch-trained colt Classic Causeway, who finished third last year in the Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and second in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes; Kitten Mischief, from the barn of trainer Jonathan Thomas; two-time stakes winner Shipsational, trained by Edward R. Barker; and Trademark, a gelding who won his last two starts of 2021 at Churchill Downs, trained by Victoria Oliver.

Like the Sam F. Davis, the Suncoast Stakes awards qualifying points for the May 6 Kentucky Oaks for fillies on a 10-4-2-1 scale. The field for the Kentucky Oaks is limited to 14 starters.

Among the Suncoast probables is the Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House-owned Nest, who won the Grade II Demoiselle Stakes on Dec. 4 at Aqueduct. She is trained by Todd Pletcher.

Also expected to try the Suncoast are the Mike Dini-owned and trained Florida-bred Alittleloveandluck, winner of the Ginger Brew Stakes on the turf on Jan. 1 at Gulfstream in her most recent start; Freedom Rose, from the barn of Michael Campbell; Peaceful Surprise, who broke her maiden here on Jan. 14 for trainer Christophe Clement; and trainer Alnaz Ali’s Princess Elin.

Around the oval. Trainers Douglas Nunn and Tim Hamm each sent out two winners today. Nunn won the third race with 5-year-old mare Be Bop a Lola, who is owned by Winner Circle Stables and was ridden by Jose Batista. Nunn added the seventh race with Winner Circle’s 6-year-old gelding Loud N Proud, who was ridden by Pablo Morales.

Hamm won the fourth race on the turf with Harrow, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Blazing Meadows Farm and Lantern Hill Farm and ridden by Rocco Bowen. Hamm added the ninth and final race with first-time starter Trusted Advisor, a 3-year-old colt owned by Blazing Meadows Farm and ridden by Morales, giving him two victories on the day.

Fernando De La Cruz and Ademar Santos also rode two winners apiece. De La Cruz swept the early daily double, starting with the first race on Belle Gosse, a 3-year-old filly owned by Averill Racing and trained by Gerald Bennett. De La Cruz added the second with Unique Path, a 4-year-old gelding owned and trained by Mike Dini.

Santos went back-to-back in the fifth and sixth races, first scoring on 18-1 shot Estilo Elegante, a 4-year-old filly owned and trained by Juan Arriagada. Santos added the sixth with Shaldag, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Endsley Oaks Farm and trained by Rafael Schistl.

Thoroughbred racing continues Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:15 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 17, when the track is closed.

Otherwise, the Oldsmar oval is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

“Live It Up Challenge” starts Saturday. The “Live It Up Challenge” Handicapping Contest begins Saturday – Festival Preview Day – with a rules change designed to place even more emphasis on handicapping skill.

The free-to-enter online competition will require players to select a horse in two of each day’s three “Challenge Races,” which will be selected by contest officials. In previous years, players selected a horse in one of two designated “Challenge Races.”

All wagers are mythical. Scores, or bankrolls, will be determined on the basis of $2 mythical win-place-show wagers on each participant’s selections. Any race when a player’s choice finishes off-the-board, or the player does not make a selection for any reason, results in the loss of a ‘lifeline.” Players losing all their lifelines are eliminated from further participation, although they are still eligible for the $500 bonus prize for overall most winners.

All entrants begin the contest with one free lifeline. Players may purchase eight additional lifelines for $5 each upon signup, eight more on Feb. 25 for $10 each and four more on March 11 for $25 each.

The contest runs through March 27, which is Florida Cup Day, enhancing the potential for a dramatic finish. Players must register by 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. To do so, go to www.liveitupchallenge.com on the Internet.

The first-place winner will receive two seats for the 2023 High Rollers Handicapping Contest at Tampa Bay Downs next January (a $2,000 value). The second-through-fourth-place finishers will receive one seat apiece, a $1,000 equivalency.

The player selecting the most winners throughout the contest’s duration, as mentioned, receives $500.

For additional details, contact Margo Flynn, the track’s Vice President of Marketing & Publicity, at (813) 855-4401, extension 1368.