Eclipse Award winners Classic Empire and Tepin, both trained by Mark Casse, headline a list of 142 Thoroughbreds nominated to the lucrative Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South stakes program on Feb. 11 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Classic Empire, the Champion 2-Year-Old Colt who capped his 2016 campaign with a victory in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 5 at Santa Anita, tops a stellar collection of 46 3-year-old colts and geldings nominated to the 37th edition of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a mile-and-a-sixteenth event on the main dirt surface. Classic Empire, however, is scheduled to make his 2017 debut in Gulfstream's G2 Holy Bull on Feb. 4.
The Sam F. Davis is is part of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series, which awards points to the first four finishers toward qualifying for the May 6 Run for the Roses on a 10-4-2-1 basis.
Tepin, Casse's 6-year-old, two-time Eclipse Award Champion Turf Female, is the standout among 32 older fillies and mares nominated to the 18th running of the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf course.
Tepin began her 2016 championship season by winning both the Lambholm South Endeavour and the Grade II, $200,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the Tampa Bay Downs turf.
The track's third graded stakes on Feb. 11, the 31st edition of the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf, attracted 33 male nominees ages 4-and-upward. Top trainer Todd Pletcher nominated five horses to the race, including 6-year-old Grade I winner Ectot.
Chad Brown, who won the Eclipse Award as Outstanding Trainer, chipped in with four, including 5-year-old multiple graded-stakes winner March, while Casse nominated three, including Grade I winner World Approval.
Hall of Fame trainers William Mott and Claude “Shug” McGaughey each nominated three horses to the Tampa Bay Stakes.
The fourth stakes on the Festival Preview Day card is the 37th running of the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, contested at a distance of a mile-and-40-yards on the main track. Grade I winner Pretty City Dancer, from the barn of Casse, and Grade II winner Daddys Lil Darling, conditioned by Ken McPeek, lead the list of 31 sophomore nominees.
Since 2004, the Sam F. Davis Stakes has produced at least one Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands starter in all but two years. Its list of winners includes such outstanding horses as Bluegrass Cat, Any Given Saturday, General Quarters and last year's winner, Destin.
The Sam F. Davis is the main prep for the Oldsmar oval's showcase race, the Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on Festival Day, March 11.
Also nominated to the Sam F. Davis are the unbeaten, Grade II winner McCraken, from the barn of trainer Ian Wilkes; Gunnevera, a multiple graded-stakes winner trained by Antonio Sano; and Sonic Mule, a multiple-stakes winner for Pletcher.
Pletcher, whose barn always seems to be filled to overflowing with promising 3-year-olds this time of year, has nominated 12 to the Sam F. Davis, a race he has won six times in the last 11 years.
Tepin has already compiled impeccable Hall of Fame credentials, with a 13-for-23 career mark, earnings of $4,437,918 and six Grade I/Group I victories, including the 2015 Breeders' Cup Mile on turf against males and the 2016 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Other top nominees for the Lambholm South Endeavour include Pletcher's multiple graded-stakes winning 6-year-old, Sandiva, and his 5-year-old Isabella Sings, a multiple graded-stakes winner who nearly stole last year's Hillsborough before a whirlwind rally by Tepin.
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