For many years, the alpha and omega of wintertime racing in Florida was Gulfstream Park. Gulfstream still serves as a premier venue, but Tampa Bay Downs upstate has carved itself a nice wintertime niche. While the everyday cards at Tampa Bay feature convergent claiming and allowance equine puzzles featuring snowbirds gone south (you won't have to look too hard to see a Hawthorne or Arlington shipper at Tampa Bay), the track also produces a path to the Kentucky Derby. That path starts here as Tampa Bay Downs stages its "Festival Preview Day" in this piece, with Picks & Ponderings diving into the action here this week. The focus of this piece is the G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the local prep to the G2 Tampa Bay Derby. This piece will also ponder the G3 Endeavour Stakes and Suncoast Stakes as well.
It's worth noting that there are two additional races this weekend that yield Kentucky Oaks points, the G1 Las Virgenes from Santa Anita and the Martha Washington Stakes from Oaklawn. Hop on over for previews of them also from the Picks & Ponderings duo.
Authorship of each race in this piece is denoted by initials at the end of the piece, PM for Paul Mazur and NN for Nicolle Neulist. All races in this preview are slated for Saturday January 31. Morning line odds were not available at original publish time. All post times given below are those given by Equibase as these post times are purely an approximation and the track is known for running races after the advertised post time.
Updated on January 29th to include morning lines. Updated on January 31 to reflect the scratches of ROSALIND, ROCK ON BABY, and TOKYO TIME from the Endeavour.
Tampa Bay Downs -- Race 9 -- Suncoast Stakes -- One mile and forty yards on Dirt -- post time 4:20 pm ET
This year marks the 35th year that the Suncoast Stakes has been run, though it was named the Gardenia Stakes through 1988. Originally a seven-furlong race for three-year-old fillies, it was stretched to 1 1/16 miles starting in 1993. In 2007 it was run at about a mile, and the next year it settled at its current distance of a mile and forty yards. If either A. P.'s Glory or Innovative Idea, both Arlington Park maiden winners, win the Suncoast this year, she would not be the first with Chicago-area ties to accomplish the feat. The durable racemare Leave It Be (1988), who won 24 times in her 61 starts, won the Sixty Sails Handicap (GIII) at Sportsman's Park in 1990 as well as the Lady Hallie Handicap over that same track in 1991. Crown Jewel (1999) went off the favourite in the National Jockey Club Oaks at Hawthorne that April, but settled for second behind Isle Be Loving You on that trip to Stickney. Though Toll Taker (2005) never won a stakes in Illinois, she was bred in the state by Lothenbach Stables.
Most of this field wants to be on or near the early speed. ANCIENT GODDESS, INNOVATIVE IDEA, BLUE EYED BABE, A. P.'S GLORY, HOLYWELL, and HUASCA have all shown their best on or very close to the front end. With that in play, an off-pace type looks attractive, and INCLUDE BETTY brings a lot to like. She broke her maiden last out over this same track and distance, showing that she can run well over Tampa's love-it-or-hate-it surface. She came from off an honest pace, and made a sharp last-to-first rally. Two starts back, she finished fifth, though that fifth was a bit better than it looked on paper. She was as far as 26 lengths behind at one call -- but that was because Super Saks sent about twenty lengths in front of the field early that race. When the dust settled, that ended up being a pretty strong race: the top two finishers were Forward Gal 1-2 Birdatthewire and Lassofthemohicans, and even the then-erratic Super Saks is now stakes-placed at Oaklawn. Her humans also support her cause. Trainer Tom Proctor wins at 21% with last-out maiden winners, and won the Suncoast last year with Please Explain. Rider Rosemary Homeister, Jr. has experience with INCLUDE BETTY, having ridden her to her maiden victory. Though she should be forwardly placed early, judging from the fact that her maiden win came in frontrunning style, ANCIENT GODDESS still has myriad factors suggesting success in this race. She drops in class from graded company her last two times out, and makes a small cutback in distance. Though her only dirt attempt was a disaster, that was in a Grade II, and also her only attempt with blinkers on. Today, she takes the blinkers off -- a move with which trainer John Terranova is 27% with a +$1.37 ROI. Though she has not raced since the November 29 Golden Rod Stakes (GII), she has been working regularly since mid-December, and working very sharply over the Tampa dirt. This suggests a good chance of handling the surface. Terranova is also a respectable 18% off similarly long lays. Finally, INNOVATIVE IDEA merits a look. She has done her better work at one turn so far, but her only two-turn race was in the Alcibiades (GI) over an off track. As she is by Bernardini out of a multiple graded stakes winner at two turns (2008 Sixty Sails (GIII) winner Golden Velvet), a mile and forty yards should be easily in range. She should get a dry track here, and the third-place finish in the Sandpiper Stakes suggests she can handle Tampa Bay. It also suggested that, even though her maiden win came in frontrunning fashion, that she can maintain interest in a race from off the pace. That can come in handy given how much other speed there is likely to be in this race. The connections also bode well for INNOVATIVE IDEA: rider Antonio Gallardo is firing at 27% on the Tampa Bay meet, and is 4-9 (and 6-9 in the money) over the last two months with trainer Eoin Harty.
#8 INCLUDE BETTY (15/1)
#10 ANCIENT GODDESS (8/1)
#6 INNOVATIVE IDEA (8/1)
Longshot: #3 WHIMSICALITY (9/2) takes a step up from maiden special weight company at Laurel last out, where she won a one-turn mile at first asking. She tries two turns for the first time here, though the distance is just forty yards longer, and she should be bred to go even longer: by Arch out of Whimsy, a Maria's Mon mare who herself was a graded stakes winner at two turns. She has been on the shelf since that November 19 race, but she has been working regularly since mid-December, and runs for trainer Graham Motion -- 24% and positive-ROI off of similarly long lays. The workouts have not been blistering, so the question remains how well she handles the track at Tampa, but the speed she showed in her maiden win suggests that a reasonable step forward should put her right into contention here. Also, the pace should set up well for her. Given the plethora of speed horses, the ability to come from midpack which WHIMSICAL showed in her maiden win should help her stay out of trouble early and get rolling late. --NN
Tampa Bay Downs -- Race 10 -- G3 Endeavour Stakes -- 1 1/16 miles on Turf-- post time 4:50 pm ET
This year marks the 16th running of the Endeavour Stakes. The race was originally run at about 1 1/8 miles, but shortened to its current distance of 1 1/16 miles in 2004. It has been a Grade III race since 2008. Its best-known winner to date won the race before it earned a grade: Delta Princess, who won the race in 2005. Not only was Delta Princess a three-time graded stakes winner on the track, but she also excelled in the breeding shed. Delta Princess produced three-time Eclipse winner Royal Delta, Eclipse finalist Crown Queen, and last weekend's dazzling maiden winner Khozan. Two Eclipse Award winners have won the Endeavour: 2006 Champion Two Year Old Filly Dreaming of Anna (2008) opened her four-year-old season with a win in this race, and 2012 Champion Grass Mare Zagora (2012) began her championship season with an Endeavour win.
Selections are made "turf only", with the rail set to the zero position at publish time. This year's event has a $150,000 purse, and Lambholm South Farm serves as the sponsor of this race.
HARD NOT TO LIKE has not raced since her longshot victory in the Grade I Jenny Wiley at Keeneland last year, but she is hard not to like even after such a long lay. This mare has been working solidly since December, and has proven before that she runs well fresh. She won the Marshua's River (GIII) in 2013 first off a lay of similar length, and then won first off of a five-month layoff last year. She has moved to the barn of trainer Christophe Clement -- who fires at 21% off lays longer than three months. Pacewise she is a stalking to midpack type: perfect for a race in which there does not figure to be a pace meltdown. She should stay well in touch with the pace, and should be fast enough to pose a threat. Related to pace, one thing seems as close to certain as a thing can be in horse racing: I'M ALREADY SEXY will be forwardly placed. Her early pace is the best in the field, and she will likely set the fractions, though she also has the ability to rate just a bit if need be. This may come in handy, as the likes of LOTS O'LEX and WHY KATHERINE could try to pressure her. All three of them are marooned outside, though, leaving a strong possibility that they will try to rate instead, leaving I'M ALREADY SEXY with early control. The switch away from Calvin Borel is a positive move; though it would look a bit better if Florent Geroux were returning to the irons than Miguel Mena, Mena still rode her to a close second in the Mint Julep (GIII) last year. I'M ALREADY SEXY has the speed and the class, and will be a factor. Finally, consider a horse who has done some of her best work over the green stuff at Tampa: MARIA MARIA. She comes in with a win over the local grass in a one-mile allowance prep. In her only other race at Tampa, an allowance last year against males, she finished third behind two multiple graded stakes winners: Bobby's Kitten and Global View. She enters second off a two-and-a-half-month lay, and should be able to progress beyond what she showed in her win last out. Pacewise, she is a mid-pack type, but not one who typically comes from the clouds. This is what gets her the nod over TESTA ROSSI. Even though rail-drawn TESTA ROSSI also has a win over the Tampa Bay course (last year's Grade III Florida Oaks), she will likely need a bit more pace help than MARIA MARIA, and will likely be a shorter price to boot.
#11 HARD NOT TO LIKE (7/2)
#6 I'M ALREADY SEXY (4/1)
#10 MARIA MARIA (20/1)
Longshot: If I'M ALREADY SEXY does not fire or somehow falters along the way, #13 WHY KATHERINE (10/1) has done most of her best work near the front end. It has been since last March that she won, but she almost always ends up in contention come the wire. She has it the board in three of four tries at this distance, including a third-place finish behind Parranda and Skylander Girl in the Marshua's River (a tougher Grade III) last out. That race was at Gulfstream, going the same distance as the Endeavour. Even if she does not get right on the front because of I'M ALREADY SEXY, she can still stalk a few lengths off the pace and kick into contention late. Add to this bit of versatility the fact that she gets 20% local rider Daniel Centeno in the irons, and WHY KATHERINE should at least get a share of the money at a square price. -- NN
Tampa Bay Downs -- Race 11 -- G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes -- 1 1/16 miles on Dirt -- post time 5:20 pm ET
The Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis is a rare race: one that sees three-year-olds go two turns before the Kentucky Derby but not offering anything in the way of Kentucky Derby points. It did offer Kentucky Derby points in prior years on a 10-4-2-1 scale, however. The namesake of this race is former Tampa Bay Downs track president Sam F. Davis.
The Davis serves as the local prep to the G2 Tampa Bay Derby and has yielded five horses that have won both the Davis and Tampa Bay Derby: Phantom Jet (1987), Speedy Cure (1991), Marco Bay (1993), Thundering Storm (1996) and Burning Roma (2001). No horse has ever won the G3 Davis and the Kentucky Derby, though the closest was Bluegrass Cat (2006). He won the Davis then was second in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, although he later won the G1 Haskell. Any Given Saturday (2007) also annexed the Haskell along with the Davis. General Quarters (2009) later won a Grade One on grass. The Davis was given its Grade Three stature in 2009 and will be run for the thirty-fourth time in 2015.
Bluegrass Cat, 2006 Kentucky Derby runner-up, winning the 2006 Sam F. Davis Stakes. Video courtesy of YouTube.
It's career start three and the first one around two turns for AMI'S FLATTER, who was second last time out in the Mucho Macho Man stakes at Gulfstream. Run with a zippy final time (though Gulfstream and reliable clock times are not sympatico), AMI'S FLATTER made up ground in the lane to be second to Bluegrass Singer in that one turn mile Mucho Macho Man. The stakes winner recently was third in the G3 Holy Bull, and AMI'S FLATER gets a cozy inside draw for this first start around two turns. The pedigree is fine for it (by a son of A. P. Indy out of a Touch Gold mare. Worth noting there's a bullet workout after the stakes, a clue that AMI's FLATTER hasn't lost the starch yet and can perhaps duplicate the effort. While ROYAL SON is doing the same stretchout as well from a one-turn Gulfstream mile to a two-turn Tampa Bay mile and a sixteenth, the edge also goes to a trainer with a solid four-for-fourteen record in a sprint-route-route scenario. ROYAL SON, technically, has never finished first. His win came after the disqualification of Tradesman in a one-turn mile downstate at Gulfstream, where Tradesman crossed the wire ahead of ROYAL SON but the stewards elevated ROYAL SON over Tradesman. The one-turn mile race saw ROYAL SON dictate the terms all the way through then get passed at the end and fouled. ROYAL SON, though in the summer at Saratoga, was second to El Kabeir at Saratoga, and he blossomed into the G3 Jerome winner. A Pletcher/Velazquez production, and that means support at the windows. MY JOHNNY BE GOOD has a few things to like in this event. He's got a win over the surface, as he won by a zip code at six panels to clear the first level allowance condition. He's got a pedigree to indicate dirt will be better, as he's got the Colonel John-Tiznow sire line. And he shows a bullet work on January 26th. All this and local ties too, as he graduated in the late summer at Arlington and chased around quality horses in his career like Bourbon Cowboy (2nd in the Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds) and Eagle (steam horse for the G3 Lecomte).
#3 AMI'S FLATTER (9/2)
#2 ROYAL SON (8/1)
#9 MY JOHNNY BE GOOD (6/1)
Longshot: As these are three-year-old horses that have scant records, skills and pace scenarios aren't always the most clear-cut. You get horses that haven't learned yet how to pass or not pass, or have fully clear-cut styles. As such, they could all go to the front and lose their minds. With speed/stretch-out horses like ROYAL SON and BANDAGES, there could be a hot pace and a confirmed closer could make waves. #8 G FIVE (10/1) could be that. He won his two starts off the pace at Gulfstream, albeit at one turn. However, one of his wins came at one turn at Gulfstream going a mile in a slow-paced (even though Gulfstream times are funky) event for this division. Coming off the pace in a slow race and still winning is the key here. That style should get flattered in a race with a more honest pace thanks to the stretch-out types. As a bonus, he's an uncoupled entry of Todd Pletcher trainees, the higher-profile one being ROYAL SON. If track announcer Richard Grunder yells G FIVE in the stretch, it could be bingo. --PM
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