A field of nine 3-year-olds in search of 10 valuable Kentucky Derby (GI) points is expected to line up for Saturday’s 37th running of the Sam F. Davis Stakes (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs, a 1 1/16-mile main track test that serves as the traditional prep for the Tampa Bay Derby (GII), which will be held in four weeks. This year the Sam F. Davis will carry a purse of $250,000 and has been set as the 10th race on Saturday. Post time for the feature, which is one of three graded stakes on the day, has been set at 4:45 p.m. ET.
The winter weather in Florida continues to be beautiful and warm, and the weekend forecast calls for sunny skies with highs near 80. The only issue that may arise is humidity, which is expected to be fairly high and could create a more muggy, sticky day. Expect the main track to be fast all day and the turf course firm.
In the early days of the Sam F. Davis, it wasn’t usually a serious consideration for trainers with legit colts and geldings headed toward the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. All that changed in the early 2000s when a popular runner named Burning Roma, who was fourth in the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), captured the race before winning the Tampa Bay Derby and establishing himself as a legit graded stakes performer who ran at the elite level 36 times. Bluegrass Cat, who was second in the 2006 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes (GI), followed soon after, as did notable names Any Given Saturday, General Quarters, Vinceremos and a year ago, Destin, who would go on to win the Tampa Bay Derby.
Though a classic winner has yet to emerge from this race, a good field will assemble this year with the winner hoping to turn that luck around and be a factor in one of the three jewels of the Triple Crown in the spring.
Tabor, Magnier and Smith’s undefeated Fact Finding skipped last week’s Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) at Gulfstream Park in favor of this spot, perhaps needing more time or perhaps dodging the previously undefeated champion and division leader Classic Empire. Regardless, the gray son of The Factor has found a good spot here to perhaps land a first graded win. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Fact Finding hasn’t done a thing wrong and enters this race off a nice win in the Smooth Air Stakes a month ago. He’s almost always been a good work horse in the mornings, though he doesn’t often go at blistering speeds, and he seems to have a nice adaptable running style that will always help him. His speed, pace and class figures are nothing to snivel at either and Pletcher’s longtime go-to jockey John Velazquez will be in town for the mount when he had multiple choices to ride the big stakes at Gulfstream. All Fact Finding may need is a clean break and trouble-free trip from post position three to get to the wire in front.
Whitham Thoroughbreds’ early 2-1 favorite McCraken is also undefeated and making his first start since winning the November 26 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) at Churchill Downs. The Ian Wilkes-trained son of Ghostzapper hasn’t been racing, but hasn’t missed a beat, working regularly and impressively all winter at his winter base of Palm Meadows. He is a stone-cold closer who will get a decent pace in front of him to run at, so if he can avoid both traffic and a wide trip turning for home, he’s going to be a tough favorite to beat. While his numbers could use a bit of a boost, it makes sense to think he’s grown up a bit and will improve with maturity and ready for a top performance. Regular jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. will be back aboard and the pair will break from post position eight.
Trainer Rusty Arnold will tighten the girth on Wild Shot, who finished behind McCraken in the Kentucky Jockey Club stakes last out. The Calumet Farm homebred broke his maiden at Churchill Downs in September and, despite not reaching the winner’s circle since, his numbers have improved with each start. It’s hard to tell what he wants to do, distance-wise, as his lone win was at sprinting, but his pedigree indicates he should be fine with added ground. New jockey Robby Albarado will no doubt have him forwardly placed early, but the question mark is if he’ll be able to hold off his rivals who are either faster or more adept at the distance in the stretch.
Roy and Gretchen Jackson’s Lael Stables is hoping to get back on the Triple Crown Trail with No Dozing, a homebred from the first crop of standout young sire Union Rags. He’s another who’s been off since the end of November when he finished second in the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes (GII) and his overall numbers show he belongs with the upper end of this bunch. Trainer Arnaud Delacour is based at Tampa, so this track is this colt’s winter base, and he’s been working regularly for weeks. A mid-pack type, all he may need is a decent pace and clear running room down the stretch under jockey Daniel Centeno.
Tapwrit, a very expensive $1.2 million son of Tapit, has won his last two starts in maiden and non-graded stakes after his 10th and last-place debut debacle at Saratoga last summer. Another Todd Pletcher trainee, this colt is a son of the grade 1-winning Successful Appeal mare Appealing Sophie and shouldn’t have any trouble stretching out. His numbers indicate he’ll need to improve some to be competitive, but he looks like he owns some serious room to improve, even off two straight wins. He also has some tactical ability, which will help depending on pace after he and jockey Jose Ortiz break from post seven.
Chance of Luck is a humbly bred local who always gives his best. A listed stakes winner over this surface, this will be his acid test. He’s posted some figures to show he’d be competitive to pick up a check for Owners JJ Brevin Stable, trainer Gerald Bennett and jockey Ron Allen Jr.
Wachtel Stable and Gary Barber’s King and His Court is the most experienced in the bunch with nine career starts. He’s consistent and has three wins and four seconds, but his winning has come in restricted Ontario-bred stakes at Woodbine over the all-weather surface. If he’s meant to be on the Triple Crown trail, he better show trainer Mark Casse in here, but overall it looks like he may be just a cut below the top choices here.
Conrad Farms State of Honor is another Canadian-based runner who was fairly successful on a synthetic surface before posting a nice runner-up finish in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes over Gulfstream Park’s main track last out. He’s got a win and two seconds in his last three and a best performance from the innermost post position seems possible from on the lead as it’s a good bet jockey Julien Leparoux will have to send from down along the rail to avoid traffic early.
Six Gun Salute is a well-bred half-brother to millionaire and Dubai World Cup (GI) winner Well Armed. The potential has always been there, he’s just never really run to it for trainer Eoin Harty. He seems overmatched in here.