by Mike Henry

For a number of 3-year-old Thoroughbreds whose connections hold Kentucky Derby aspirations, 4:54 p.m. on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs is show-and-tell time.

A field of 12 sophomores, a few more promising than the others, is expected to line up about that time for the 42nd running of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a mile-and-a-sixteenth race awarding “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points to the first four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.

The Sam F. Davis is one of four main-track stakes races on a good-looking, 11-race Festival Preview Day card beginning at 12:11 p.m. The program includes three other stakes races: the $150,000, mile-and-40-yard Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, a Road to the Kentucky Oaks points race to be contested as the eighth race; the $100,000, 6-furlong Pelican Stakes, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward, which is the seventh race; and the $50,000, 6-furlong Minaret Stakes, for fillies and mares 4-and-upward, scheduled as the sixth.

In addition to being a field of dreams for breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys and stable workers, the Sam F. Davis is the major prep race for the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, which is the showcase event of a $1-million-plus Festival Day card on March 12 featuring four graded stakes races.

To get to Festival Day, the Sam F. Davis entrants need to show they’ve upped their games off their 2-year-old performances. There is no shortage of confident handlers.

“It’s a good (Kentucky) Derby prep race, the timing is good and our horse is healthy and doing everything right,” said Dale Romans, the trainer of Kentucky-bred colt Howling Time, expected to be one of the betting favorites.

“(The Sam F. Davis) is a good race to get your horse to the next level, and it’s a great race to win on its own. But we are looking down the road (with Howling Time),” Romans said.

Howling Time, who is owned by Albaugh Family Stables and will be ridden by his regular jockey, Joseph Talamo, won his first two starts as a 3-year-old, including the Street Sense Stakes on Oct. 31 at Churchill Downs, before fading to a fifth-place finish in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 27 at Churchill. “No one else wanted the lead,” Romans said, “and I don’t think that’s where this horse wants to run.”

Romans said he hopes Talamo can place Howling Time somewhere behind the leaders before unleashing his best run late. “This horse never gets tired, and we just want to get him to finish with a nice run and hopefully win,” Romans said.

Joining Howling Time from the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes is Kentucky-bred colt Classic Causeway, who finished a solid second in that race to Smile Happy. Irad Ortiz, Jr., will take over the riding assignment from Joel Rosario. Classic Causeway is 1-for-3, including a third-place finish on Oct. 9 in the Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.

Trainer Brian Lynch said today he is sending Classic Causeway from his south Florida base to Tampa Bay Downs on Thursday, with the intention of jogging him Friday morning and schooling him in the paddock Friday afternoon.

“I’d like to see him get his first graded-stakes victory and keep picking up Derby points,” said Lynch, who trains Classic Causeway for Kentucky West Racing and Clarke M. Cooper. “His workouts have been solid, and everything about them suggests he should run well.

“I feel that if he runs his race, he will certainly fit with these horses,” Lynch said. “He has a high cruising speed and he has gotten much bigger and stronger as a 3-year-old. He has the tactical speed to not be very far from the engine room, and hopefully he will be first to the wire.”

While Classic Causeway earned 6 points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” for his two graded-stakes efforts, Red Oak Stable’s unbeaten (3-for-3) colt Make It Big gained 10 points on Dec. 17 by winning the Springboard Mile Stakes at Remington Park in Oklahoma, his second stakes victory.

Trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr., said Jose Ortiz, Irad’s brother, will again ride Make It Big.

“I talked it over a few weeks ago with Rick Sacco, the Racing Manager for Red Oak, and he recommended the (Sam F. Davis) would be a good choice for his 3-year-old debut,” Joseph said. “We didn’t expect the race to come up this tough, but I’m excited to see how he stacks up.”

Joseph said Make It Big was forced to overcome adversity in the Springboard Mile. “He got in between horses and had to rate a bit, and then he got hooked late (by runner-up Osbourne) and had to out-battle him to the wire. It was a very professional performance,” Joseph said.

“This horse has a good mind, and he has found a way to win each time. He probably needs to improve to win Saturday, but he has improved in each race, so hopefully he will follow suit.”

Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse has entered three horses in the Sam F. Davis, including Grade III Grey Stakes winner God of Love, a supplementary entry after not being originals nominated. Casse’s other runners are Golden Glider and Volcanic.

Here is the full field for the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes in post position order, with trainers and jockeys:

  1. Mr Rum Runner, Patrick Biancone, Romero Ramsay Maragh; 2. Unpredictable Bay, Alnaz Ali, Alonso Quinonez; 3. Classic Causeway, Brian Lynch, Irad Ortiz, Jr.; 4. Golden Glider, Mark Casse, Antonio Gallardo; 5. God of Love, Mark Casse, Rafael M. Hernandez; 6. Trademark, Victoria Oliver, Daniel Centeno; 7. Make It Big, Saffie Joseph, Jr., Jose Ortiz; 8. Shipsational, Edward Barker, Javier Castellano; 9. Howling Time, Dale Romans, Joseph Talamo; 10. Volcanic, Mark Casse, Edwin Gonzalez; 11. Strike Hard, Matthew J. Williams, Leonel Reyes; 12. Kitten Mischief, Jonathan Thomas, Manuel Franco; 13. (also-eligible) Little Vic, Juan Carlos Avila, Paco Lopez.

The 42nd edition of the Suncoast Stakes appears to have a standout in Nest, 2-for-3 after her victory on Dec. 4 at Aqueduct in the Grade II Demoiselle Stakes. The daughter of Curlin, out of the A.P. Indy mare Marion Ravenwood, is owned by Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House and is trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher.

Here is the full field for the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes in post position order, with trainers and jockeys:

  1. Blamethechampagne, Ian Wilkes, Rafael M. Hernandez; 2. Nest, Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz, Jr.; 3. Alittleloveandluck, Mike Dini, Paco Lopez; 4. Mining Chrome, Gerald Bennett, Roberto Alvarado, Jr; 5. Mirth ‘n Merriment, Tim Hamm, Rocco Bowen; 6. Peaceful Surprise, Christophe Clement, Samy Camacho; 7. Ha’ Penny, Joseph Orseno, Luca Panici; 8. Princess Elin, Alnaz Ali, Alonso Quinonez.

Another Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, has entered 4-year-old gelding Baby Yoda in the 38th edition of the Pelican Stakes. Now 3-for-7, Baby Yoda finished second on Dec. 26 at Santa Anita in the Grade I RUNHAPPY Malibu Stakes, albeit 11 ½ lengths behind sensational winner Flightline. Also entered in the Pelican is 2020 Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner King Guillermo, from the barn of Juan Carlos Avila.

Here is the full field for the $100,000 Pelican Stakes in post position order, with trainers and jockeys:

  1. R Mercedes Boy, Kerri Raven, Rocco Bowen; 2. King Guillermo, Juan Carlos Avila, Samy Camacho; 3. Baby Yoda, Bill Mott, Jose Ortiz; 4. Bank On Shea, Carlos David, Irad Ortiz, Jr.; 5. Pudding, Elizabeth Dobles, Leonel Reyes; 6. Cajun Casanova, Jose H. Delgado, Pablo Morales; 7. Boca Boy, Cheryl Winebaugh, Antonio Gallardo.

 The 4-year-old filly Feeling Mischief, who won last season’s Sandpiper Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, is among the entrants in the 41st running of the Minaret Stakes. Owned by Mellon Patch, Inc., and trained by Michael Campbell, she prepped for the Minaret with an allowance/optional claiming score here on Jan. 19.

Here is the full field for the $50,000 Minaret Stakes in post position order, with trainers and jockeys:

  1. Special Princess, Christopher Duncan, Ademar Santos; 2. Night Cap, Bobby Raymond, Jesus Castanon; 3. Drop a Hint, Herman Wilensky, Antonio Gallardo; 4. Feeling Mischief, Michael Campbell, Javier Castellano; 5. Poseidon’s Passion, James Gulick, Samy Camacho; 6. My Destiny, Herman Wilensky, Edwin Gonzalez; 7. Tap Dance Fever, Gerald Bennett, Daniel Centeno; 8. Quinoa Tifah, Carlos David, Irad Ortiz, Jr.

Around the oval. Thoroughbred racing continues Friday, 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 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.