by Mike Henry

Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won the Sam F. Davis Stakes a record six times, has nominated eight 3-year-olds for the 43rd running of the Grade III, $250,000 “Road to the Kentucky Derby” prep race on Feb. 11 at Tampa Bay Downs.

The Sam F. Davis, which awards Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve qualifying points to the first five finishers on a 20-8-6-4-2 scale, has attracted 41 nominations. It will be contested at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track. The Sam F. Davis is the major prep for the Grade III, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 11.

The Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is scheduled May 6 at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

The Sam F. Davis is the centerpiece of Festival Preview Day, featuring four stakes races worth a combined $550,000 in purse money. The 43rd running of the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies drew 26 nominations, headed by trainer Mark Casse’s 2022 Eclipse Award Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Wonder Wheel, who won the NetJets Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 4 at Keeneland.

The Suncoast Stakes will be run at a distance of a mile-and-40-yards on the main track. The Suncoast is a “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” prep race, awarding qualifying points to the first five finishers for the May 5 Longines Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on a 20-8-6-4-2 scale.

The other Festival Preview Day Stakes are the 39th running of the $100,000 Pelican Stakes, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward sprinting 6 furlongs on the main track, and the 42nd running of the $50,000 Minaret Stakes, for fillies and mares 4-and-upward racing 6 furlongs on the main track.

Pletcher’s total of nominees for the Sam F. Davis equals his number of Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Trainer after he edged Chad Brown in the balloting.

Pletcher, who last won the Sam F. Davis in 2016 with subsequent Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner and Belmont Stakes runner-up Destin, has a graded-stakes winner among his eight nominees in Major Dude, owned by Spendthrift Farm. The colt won the Grade II Pilgrim Stakes on Oct. 2 on the outer turf course at the Belmont At The Big A meeting.

Other graded stakes-winning nominees for the Davis include Casse’s colt Champions Dream, a son of Justify who won the Grade III Nashua Stakes on Nov. 6 at Aqueduct, and trainer Danny Gargan’s colt Dubyuhnell, winner of the Grade II Remsen on Dec. 3 at Aqueduct.

Also nominated are trainer Ramon Minguet’s Florida-bred gelding Zydeceaux, winner of the Pasco Stakes here over Champions Dream on Jan. 14, and conditioner Aldana Spieth’s colt Dreaming of Kona, who won the Mucho Macho Man Stakes on Jan. 1 at Gulfstream via disqualification.

Other trainers with multiple Sam F. Davis nominations include Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott and Saffie A. Joseph, Jr., each with four; and Casse, Greg Sacco and George “Rusty” Arnold, II, each with two.

Here are the links to the Sam F. Davis Stakes nominations and each horse’s past performances: 

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay Downs officials and area racing fans are keeping their fingers crossed Casse – a member of both the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs and the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame – will choose the Suncoast as the 3-year-old debut for D. J. Stable’s Wonder Wheel, a daughter of Into Mischief who won four times in five 2022 starts, including the Grade I Darley Alcibiades Stakes on Oct. 7 at Keeneland before her Juvenile Fillies score.

Wonder Wheel has been ridden in all her starts by Tyler Gaffalione, a graduate of Sunlake High School in nearby Land o’ Lakes.

Wonder Wheel was a runaway winner in the Eclipse Award balloting, collecting 240 of 246 votes cast. Julia Shining, who received one vote after winning the Grade II Demoiselle Stakes on Dec. 3 at Aqueduct, has also been nominated to the Suncoast by Pletcher for owner Stonestreet Stables.

Tampa Bay Downs-based nominees for the Suncoast with solid credentials include trainer Arnaud Delacour’s Opus Forty Two, a Mark B. Grier-owned filly who won the Gasparilla Stakes on Jan. 14, and leading Oldsmar trainer Gerald Bennett’s Florida-bred Pretty’n Awesome, 2-for-2 at the current meeting.

Casse, Pletcher, Delacour and Bennett each nominated three horses to the Suncoast.

Here are the links to the Suncoast Stakes nominations and each horse’s past performances:

Here are the links to the Pelican Stakes nominations and each horse’s past performances:

Here are the links to the Minaret Stakes nominations and each horse’s past performances:


Around the oval. Trainer Juan Arriagada sent out two winners today. He won the third race with Estilo Magico, a 3-year-old colt he owns. Jose Batista was the rider. Arriagada added the sixth with Pretty Flattering, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Craig Gordon and ridden by Manny Jimenez.

Pablo Morales rode two winners, giving him 2,492 for his career. He won the fourth race on the turf on Command Point, a 6-year-old mare owned by Team Block and Rich Ege and trained by James Gulick. Morales added the eighth on Imperial King, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Patrick Mogauro, Jr., and trained by John Rigattieri.

Leading jockey Samy Camacho also rode two winners, both on the turf. He captured the seventh aboard Savvy Layla, a 5-year-old gelding trained by leading conditioner Gerald Bennett and owned by Bennett’s Winning Stables.

Camacho added the ninth with King of Chaos, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Elliot Mavorah and trained by Greg Sacco.

Saturday’s card begins the graded-stakes portion of the current meet, with a pair of Grade III turf events for older horses. Both the $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward and the $175,000 Endeavour takes for fillies and mares 4-and-upward will be contested at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth.

The Endeavour, which is the seventh race Saturday, has drawn a field of 11, headed by the Chad Brown-trained 4-year-old filly Marketsegmentation and 5-year-old mare Oliviaofthedesert from the barn of Wayne Catalano. Marketsegmentation will be ridden by Samy Camacho and Morales will be aboard Oliviaofthedesert.

The Tampa Bay Stakes, scheduled as the ninth of 10 races, has drawn an overflow field of 14, with 12 permitted to start. Top contenders include Pletcher’s 4-year-old colt Emmanuel and Mighty Heart, a 6-year-old trained by Patrick County, Jr. Hall of Famer Javier Castellano is expected to ride Emmanuel and Keveh Nicholls has the assignment on Mighty Heart.

Post time for the first of 10 races will be 12:32 p.m.

Thoroughbred racing continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:32 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.