According to the tote board, Catholic Boy (1-2) was going to walk all over the other five sophomore colts entered in Saturday's G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. But when the favorite drew even with 10-1 frontrunner Flameaway at the head of the lane, there was another story to be told. Jose Lezcano and Flameaway re-rallied in the stretch and fought all the way to the wire, beating Catholic Boy by a half-length to earn 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The Ontario-bred son of Scat Daddy, trained by Mark Casse for John Oxley, covered 1 1/16 miles over Tampa's fast main track in 1:42.44.
“He's a fighter. If you've ever watched him, you've seen that,” Casse said. “With the track playing a little fast today, I told Jose (Lezcano) he was going to like this track. The one thing about him is, if he gets in a battle, he's going to win the battle. As long as the track is fairly firm, I think he'll run on anything. I would say there is a good chance (to return for the Grade II, $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10), but it's something I have to talk to Mr. (John) Oxley about. I would also say I was kind of wishy-washy about trying him on dirt, and Mr. Oxley said 'Can we do it one more time?' He is the boss, so I said 'Of course.' ”
With 10 points toward the Run for the Roses, Flameaway isn't even nominated to the Triple Crown, so its easy to say that he has deviated from the standard preparation for the classic. The colt won an off-the-turf version of the G3 Dixiana Bourbon at Keeneland last fall to earn his way into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, but faded after vying for the lead to finish eighth at Del Mar. To kick of his 2018 season, Casse ran the colt in the listed Kitten's Joy on the turf at Gulfstream. Flameaway won the 7 1/2-furlong contest by a hard-fought neck, but questions about his true surface preference and ability to handle the distance made 10-1 seem a reasonable price in the Davis.
Flameaway answered those questions and then some on Saturday. He and Leparoux set a comfortable first quarter fraction of :24.18, but were pressed a bit by Septimius Severus to mark the half in :47.73, meaning the colt covered the second quarter of the two-turn contest in 23.55 seconds. He never quite got another break after that, as Septimius Severus turned up the pressure heading into the turn. The three-wide favorite Catholic Boy had sat a comfortable trip off the front bunch, and loomed dangerously on the outside.
Mid-way through the turn Septimius Severus dropped out of the race, and it was just Catholic Boy and Flameaway battling for the lead at the top of the stretch.
The larger Catholic Boy's frame had Flameaway disappearing against the rail, but the chestnut colt wasn't finished. He was late changing leads in the stretch, but once he and Lezcano got organized they were in it to win. Catholic Boy had every chance to run by Flameaway but was unable to do so; the game chestnut simply refused to let the bigger horse pass him. At the wire, Flameaway had a half-length margin on Catholic Boy. The late-running Vino Rosso made a big run in the final eighth, but was only able to gain third before the wire.
Jonathan Thomas, trainer of the beaten favorite Catholic Boy, said: ”I really need to watch the race again, but I thought it was a big effort giving 6 pounds. I'm happy because it was a good effort. I just need to see it again and digest the race.”
Bred in Ontario by Phoenix Rising Farms, Flameaway is out of the winning Fusaichi Pegasus mare Vulcan Rose. He initially brought $150,000 as a short yearling at the Keeneland January sale. Returned to the ring for the Fasig-Tipton New York yearling sale, the colt brought $400,000 from Oxley. Now, he boasts a record of five wins in seven starts and earnings of over $460,000.
”He is a very nice horse who I think is improving with every race,” said Lezcano. “He's very quiet, not hyper at all, and he gives you what you ask for. I think he will be a nice horse in the future.”
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