In the earliest runnings of Tampa Bay Downs’ Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3), which will be contested this year for the 44th time, it wasn’t typically considered a serious race for trainers with legit sophomores headed toward the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. All that changed, however, in the early 2000s when a talented and fan-favored runner named Burning Roma, who was fourth in the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), captured the race before going on to win the Tampa Bay Derby and establishing himself as a legit graded stakes performer who ran at the elite level 36 times throughout his career.
Bluegrass Cat, who was second in the 2006 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes (G1), followed soon after, as did notable names Any Given Saturday, General Quarters, Vinceremos, McCrackin, Flamewaway, Well
Defined and Sole Volante. Though no classic winners so far have emerged from a win here, the 1 1/16-mile event has turned into a popular spot for Derby hopefuls, especially since it offers valuable Road to the Derby points to the top-five finishers on a 20-10-6-4-2 scale.
This race, which was named for the former president of Tampa Bay Downs and one of Tampa’s best-known businessmen who passed away in 1993, was inaugurated in 1981 and has served as the traditional prep for the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), which has been set for March 6 this year. Five winners of the Sam Davis have gone on to win the Tampa Bay Derby — Phantom Jet (1987), Speedy Cure (1991), Marco Bay (1993), Thundering Storm (1996) and Burning Roma (2001).
Todd Pletcher has saddled seven winners of this race so far (Bluegrass Cat, 2006; Any Given Saturday, 2007; Rule, 2010; Brethren, 2011; Vinceremos, 2014; Destin, 2016; and Litigate a year ago) while John Velazquez has been aboard three runners to have returned to the winner’s circle to lead all jockeys and all were for Pletcher (Bluegrass Cat, Rule and Destin).
Flameaway in 2019 posted the fastest time in 1:42.44.
And even though the winner of a Triple Crown race 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 just a few months.
Saturday’s weather is expected to be sunny and beautiful with highs in the mid- to upper 70s..
The Sam F. Davis field, which has been carded as the day’s 10th race with a post time of 5:15 p.m. ET.
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