The eyes of much of the Thoroughbred racing community will be focused on Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, when a number of legitimate Triple Crown hopefuls will compete in the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track.
The 37th edition of the Sam F. Davis is the showpiece of the track's annual Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South, with three graded stakes on the card and total stakes-purse money of $650,000.
The Sam F. Davis Stakes is a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” race, with the top four finishers receiving 10-4-2-1 points toward qualifying for the Run for the Roses starting gate on May 6 at Churchill Downs. It is also the major prep race for the Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 11.
Also scheduled Saturday are the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf; the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf; and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40-yards on the main track.
Reigning two-time Eclipse Award champion mare Tepin, who won the 2016 Lambholm South Endeavour, is scheduled to work Monday at Palm Meadows, after which trainer Mark Casse will decide whether to return for a defense of last year's triumph.
Back to the Sam F. Davis and unbeaten 3-year-old colt McCraken, considered by many observers to be the leading Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands candidate. The son of 2004 Horse of the Year and Hall of Fame member Ghostzapper is expected to make his 2017 debut in the Sam F. Davis for breeder-owner Whitham Thoroughbreds and trainer Ian Wilkes. McCraken breezed five furlongs Tuesday in 1:01.1 at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla.
McCraken, who has raced solely at Churchill Downs, concluded his 2-year-old campaign with an impressive victory in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes under jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr.
Another leading Kentucky Derby prospect, the Lael Stables-homebred colt No Dozing, has been prepped locally for the Sam F. Davis by Tampa Bay Downs trainer Arnaud Delacour, breezing five furlongs here Saturday in 1:01.20. Now 2-for-4 lifetime, No Dozing opened a lot of eyes with his game runner-up finish to Mo Town in the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 26. No Dozing's sire, Union Rags, won the 2012 Belmont Stakes.
Seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won the Sam F. Davis six times in the last 11 years, including last year with Destin, is expected to send an unbeaten colt to the Sam F. Davis in Fact Finding, who is 3-for-3 for the ownership group of Michael Tabor, M.V. Magnier, Derrick Smith and Stonestreet Stables. The speedy Fact Finding won his 2-year-old races by a combined 13 ¾ lengths, including a season-ending, seven-length victory on Dec. 10 in the Smooth Air Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Other likely starters for the Sam F. Davis include Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes runner-up Wild Shot, trained by George R. Arnold, II, and Oldsmar trainer Gerald Bennett's Chance of Luck, who won the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes here on Dec. 3 and finished second in the $100,000 Pasco Stakes on Jan. 21.
Also probable are King and His Court, a Casse-trained gelding who won the Coronation Futurity and the Display Stakes last fall at Woodbine in Toronto; State of Honor, another Casse runner who finished second in the Coronation Futurity and the Jan. 7 Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream; and Six Gun Salute, trained by Eoin Harty.
Tepin, owner Robert E. Masterson's 6-year-old mare who has earned $4,437,918 while also defeating males on some of the biggest stages imaginable, began her second Eclipse Award-winning season here last year with victories in the Lambholm South Endeavour and the Grade II, $200,000 Hillsborough Stakes.
Among those also expected to compete in the 18th running of the turf stakes are Light In Paris, an impressive winner of the Endeavour Prep here on Jan. 8, from the barn of 2016 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown; the third-place finisher in the Endeavour Prep, 6-year-old Lots o' Lex, trained by Gerald Aschinger; Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey's 4-year-old French-bred filly, Azaelia; stakes-placed 4-year-old Cactus Copy, from the barn of Ryan Walsh; and Aschinger's 5-year-old Emerald Pond.
McGaughey, who won last year's Tampa Bay Stakes with Reload, is expected to send Grade III winner Inspector Lynley for Saturday's 31st edition. The 4-year-old colt, a son of 2000 Eclipse Champion Older Horse Lemon Drop Kid, is a homebred competing for Stuart S. Janney, III and Phipps Stable.
Other likely starters include 7-year-old Grade III winner Kasaqui, who finished second in the Grade I Arlington Million last summer, for trainer Ignacio Correas, IV; the Australian-bred 6-year-old gelding Turbo Street, owned and trained by Brian A. Lynch; Irish Strait, an improving 5-year-old gelding trained by H. Graham Motion; and Coco Mon, a 7-year-old gelding trained by Eddie Kenneally.
Also probable are the Wilkes-trained 4-year-old colt Bondurant, a fast-closing second in the Grade III Commonwealth Turf at Churchill Downs in November; Conquest Panthera, a lightly raced 5-year-old gelding trained by Casse; and the 4-year-old Aschinger-trained gelding Itsnotezbeinbreezy.
Kaigun, Casse's 7-year-old multiple Grade II-winning millionaire gelding who last raced in July, is a possible for the Tampa Bay Stakes.
The Suncoast Stakes, which has produced subsequent Grade I winners in 2015 champ Include Betty and last year's winner, Weep No More, will have its 37th running. Among the probable starters are the graded-stakes filly Tapa Tapa Tapa, trained by Timothy Hamm, and the Bennett-trained R Angel Katelyn, winner of both the $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes and $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
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