Perfection is difficult to achieve on the racetrack, so trainer Michael Trombetta settled for the next-best thing this morning in Independence Hall's final workout for Saturday's Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes.
“He kicked on nice. I'm very happy with the breeze,” Trombetta said after his assistant, Sarah Shaffer, worked the 3-year-old colt in 48 3/5 seconds on the fast Tampa Bay Downs main track. “The way he started off (an opening eighth of a mile in about 13 seconds), you wouldn't have thought he'd breeze in 48 and change.
“The 'ask' was somewhere in the 48-49 range and out in 1:01 range, and he galloped out in 1:00 4/5. So if you're choosier than that, you'll never be happy.”
With the exception of some pre-race shenanigans in the paddock before his victory in the Jerome Stakes on Jan. 1 at Aqueduct, Independence Hall has done nothing to cause his connections to fret. He'll likely be a heavy favorite when he goes in search of his fourth victory in four starts in the 40th running of the mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis, a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race for 3-year-olds.
Jose Ortiz will be in town to ride Independence Hall, who is owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creeks Racing Stables, Kathleen Verratti and Robert Verratti.
Independence Hall came to Tampa Bay Downs five days after his Jerome Stakes victory. In addition to breezing four times at the Oldsmar oval, he has “schooled” four times in the paddock, three times during afternoon racing, to acclimate himself to his surroundings in preparation for Saturday's expected large crowd.
“Knock wood, he's been good,” said Trombetta, who says Independence Hall “beat the hell out of all of us” before the Jerome. “He gets a little excited, but I think he wants to get out there and do something.”
The long-range objective for Independence Hall is to make the starting gate for the 146th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 2 at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Independence Hall picked up 10 points for winning the Grade III Nashua Stakes on Nov. 3 at Aqueduct, and a victory Saturday would add 10 to his total.
The connections had considered making his next start on Feb. 15 at Fair Grounds in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford-Lincoln. That races awards 50 points to the winner, and with the Kentucky Derby limited to 20 starters, owners and trainers can never be sure what points total they might need to qualify.
But given the manner in which Independence Hall has settled in here, managing partner Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners made the call to contest the Sam F. Davis.
“The (difference in points) was part of the decision process, but the owners feel the points will come if the horse is right,” Trombetta said. “This race is here at the track he's training on, and the other one is 600 miles away at a track he's never seen. You weight all these things, then everybody has to be happy with whatever decision is made and you just roll with it.”
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