This weekend, the Derby trail visits Tampa Bay Downs -- and so does Picks and Ponderings. We visit in a sense of writing this preview of all four stakes races on Saturday's card. But, we also visit in a literal sense. This half of P&P will be on the ground at Tampa Bay Downs, so make sure to follow us on Twitter at @picksponderings for live updates, paddock notes, and information about Saturday's stakes-laden card at Tampa Bay Downs.
The card features four added-money races, including three Grade 3 events. The Sam F. Davis (G3), the local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, has an air of added excitement this year. The race has Derby points for the first time since 2013, and it drew a top early Derby contender in MCCRAKEN. Sophomore fillies also get their time in the spotlight in the Suncoast Stakes. It is a fillies' complement to the Davis, as both feature three-year-olds going two turns on dirt. Though ungraded, the race drew a field solid in both size and quality, and its recent winners have seen their stars rise beyond Tampa Bay.
The two other graded stakes races on the card feature older horses going a route on grass: the Tampa Bay Stakes (G3) for open company, and the Endeavour Stakes (G3) for fillies. Both drew classy fields, including several familiar faces from the Chicago circuit over the last year or two.
Selections in the Endeavour Stakes and the Tampa Bay Stakes are made for turf only. Morning lines were unavailable at post time.
Race 8: Suncoast Stakes, three year old fillies, one mile and forty yards on the dirt, post time 3:45pm EST
This year marks the 37th 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. The last two winners of the Suncoast Stakes have eventually added Grade 1 victories to their resumes. Include Betty (2015) won the Mother Goose (G1) the following June; Weep No More (2016) upset the Ashland Stakes (G1) in her next start.
Over the years, there have been many local connections to this race. Toll Taker (2005) was bred in the state by Lothenbach Stables, though campaigned by trainer Timothy Hills for Sea Gull Associates after being transferred privately. Other Suncoast winners have had success in Chicagoland, as well. 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.
This year, nine sophomore fillies entered to vie for a purse of $100,000. R ANGEL KATELYN sails into here on a three-win streak, and will likely take money, but taking her at two turns at a short price seems a dicey proposition. Instead, this space looks on top to a horse who finished fourth behind her in the Gasparilla Stakes last out: LIVIN A DREAM. She ran her race before the race, yet still rallied on for fourth in the field of nine. That Gasparilla was only LIVIN A DREAM's second start. Note that her winning debut also came over the Tampa Bay dirt -- a positive, given how love-it-or-hate-it Tampa's sand can be. LIVIN A DREAM was also closer to the pace in that start, suggesting some versatility. She also has another local ace in the hole with 28% local rider Daniel Centeno taking the call. Though LIVIN A DREAM is by Munnings, she has a solid shot to like this mile-category distance, as her dam Cozy Cabin did her best work going two turns. All in all, LIVIN A DREAM has a lot to like at a square price.
Beyond the top choice, two shippers appeal. ELATE has raced just once, but she impressed in a twelve-length romp at Aqueduct on the Cigar Mile undercard. That came at the one-turn mile. Two turns is the question, but a mile and forty yards should be well within her abilities and her pedigree. The Bill Mott trainee has been back on the worktab for about a month, with two bullets in those four works. ELATE should be forward yet ratable in a field without staggering amounts of early speed. She could also take a step forward with the addition of Lasix for the first time. PARTY BOAT also appeals. This filly hails from the barn of Graham Motion, a trainer who has gotten 15 of his 19 Tampa shippers into the money this meet. She is a stakes winner on dirt, but still has some class to prove, as that victory came in a washed-out version of the Wait a While Stakes at Gulfstream. That said, PARTY BOAT held her own against dirt horses in maiden special weight company during the summer, and is a better and more experienced horse now. She has also shown some tactical versatility, able to win from just off the pace or rallying from midpack.
#9 LIVIN A DREAM
#7 PARTY BOAT
Longshot: Though this space could not quite pull the handle on putting #4 VENUS SERENA on top, we considered it, and will include her on any multi-race tickets. She has class to prove, as she comes into the Suncoast off a maiden victory. However, the last five Suncoast winners have all been last-out maiden winners: Wait Til Dawn, Manuka Honey, Please Explain, Include Betty, Weep No More. VENUS SERENA fits right into this mold. The light is coming on, and she aired in her first try at two turns. That came at Tampa Bay Downs, so her ability to handle the sandy surface is no question. Her running style should also suit the race, as she will be forward, but does not need the lead. VENUS SERENA does have to take a step up on speed here, but perhaps last out was all she needed. If she takes another step forward to run to her company, we may have another longshot winner of this race.
Race 9: Tampa Bay Stakes (G3), four year olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 4:15pm EST
The Tampa Bay Stakes began life in 1996 as the Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup Stakes, changing to its current name in 2008. It has always been run on the turf, and always been run at a mile and a sixteenth -- except for 2008, when it was run at about a mile and a sixteenth on the grass. The race gained its Grade 3 status in 2011, and has held it ever since. One Illinois-bred has won the Tampa Bay Stakes: iron horse Fort Prado, who posted an authoritative victory in the 2006 edition of the race. Cosmonaut (2008), though not bred in the state, made good account of himself in Illinois. He won the Arlington Handicap (G3) in both 2006 and 2007, and hit the board in that race in both 2008 and 2009. Karelian (2010) was also a stakes winner at Arlington, capturing the Sea O Erin Handicap in 2008.
This year's Tampa Bay Stakes drew a field of ten to run for a $150,000 purse. Our top selection is a familiar grey face from last summer at Arlington-- but not the one you may think. Yes, KASAQUI has class and tactical speed. But, he has been laid off since a flop (over dirt) in the Fayette (G2). He tends to need one off a break, and trainer Ignacio Correas is just one for his last 45 with runners laid off 90 days or more. At a short price, it's worth putting KASAQUI in your pocket for next out, and looking elsewhere here.
COCO MON, on the other hand, intrigues at a fair price. He fell short by a neck last out in allowance company, but did well to rally from last in such a short field. With that out of the way, COCO MON does even better when a bit closer to the pace than that. And, he gets a key rider change -- to none other than Daniel Centeno, who has been firing at 28% on this meet. He still has to prove himself against this set, but this is a bit softer Grade 3 than the River City that he tried two back. COCO MON's better races make him competitive with what he faces here.
Two others who get a long look still have an important thing to prove: they are both newly-turned-four-year-olds, and launching into all-ages company for the first time. Yet, both have been good enough to suggest they can make a smooth transition. CATAPULT hails from the barn of Chad Brown, a top turf trainer who spots his charges well. He has been off the track since a victory against sophomores last November at Aqueduct, but that came at the same distance as today's race. He has been on the worktab regularly since mid-December, and has fired off a layoff before. CATAPULT should be competitive here. Rail-drawn INSPECTOR LYNLEY should also make good account of himself in his first try versus older. His trainer, Shug McGaughey, has been in the exacta five times out of eight Tampa shippers this meet. INSPECTOR LYNLEY comes in second off a break, and was a tough-luck fifth behind Giant Run in the Tropical Park Derby last out. Between a poor start and some late congestion, little went his way. Still, his best races put him right with these. And, the rail draw is hardly a concern -- INSPECTOR LYNLEY won the Saranac (G3) three starts back from the 1-hole.
#9 COCO MON
#1 INSPECTOR LYNLEY
Longshot: #4 TURBO STREET makes his first stateside start, after 21 races in Australia. His new owner-trainer, Brian Lynch, has been strong with first-time US runners: four of his last seven have won, with five of those seven hitting the board. He has two wins in three tries at a mile and a sixteenth. And, TURBO STREET showed back in Australia that he could fire well off a layoff. The biggest question for this shipper from down under is pace. As a confirmed closer, he has his hooves crossed that KASAQUI and CONQUEST PANTHERA will both send, and get some pressure from the likes of COCO MON or CATAPULT. But, if the pace does get a bit hot, TURBO STREET could make Lynch's ambitious placing pay dividends.
Race 10: Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 4:45pm EST
Sam F. Davis was a businessman in the Tampa area who served as president of Tampa Bay Downs from 1972 through 1980. The next year, the track inaugurated this stakes for three-year-olds in his honour. It has been run on dirt at a mile and a sixteenth every year but 1981 (one mile seventy yards) and 1985 (seven furlongs), and gained its Grade 3 status in 2009. A prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, six horses have followed a win in this race up with a win in Tampa Bay Downs's richest event of the year: Phantom Jet (1987), Speedy Cure (1991), Marco Bay (1993), Thundering Storm (1996), Burning Roma (2001), and Destin (2016). Though no one has yet won the Sam F. Davis and then one of the Triple Crown races, two Todd Pletcher trainees have come close. Bluegrass Cat (2006) finished second behind Barbaro on the first Saturday in May, and also finished second behind Jazil in the Belmont. Last year's winner, Destin, missed by just a nose to Creator in the Belmont.
Bluegrass Cat edges clear of Deputy Glitters to win the 2006 Sam F. Davis Stakes.
This year, the Sam F. Davis Stakes offers its nine contenders not only a share of a $250,000 purse, but also Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) to its top four finishers. The Davis has not been a points race since 2013, and its reinstated status drew its strongest field in years.
The race has been the Todd Pletcher invitational, in a sense: Pletcher has won the race six times so far. However, the two major contenders in this year's renewal emerge from other barns. MCCRAKEN, an Ian Wilkes trainee, enters the race as the one to beat. He racked up three impressive wins at Churchill Downs this fall, and has been pointing to this race for his seasonal debut. His victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) proved he could handle two turns. MCCRAKEN has emerged as an off-pace type who fires strongly and in time, and he should get speed to attack with the likes of STATE OF HONOR, FACT FINDING, and WILD SHOT in the field. He also keeps regular rider Brian Hernandez. Even the layoff does not worry much, since his worktab is long and he fired fresh on debut. The biggest question is the one that plagues most horses coming to Tampa: will he take to the surface?
It's hard to take a short price (perhaps even odds-on!) on a horse unfamiliar with the track surface, so this space is going to go for a bit of a price instead. NO DOZING has not raced over the Tampa surface yet, but has been training over it all winter for strong Tampa trainer Arnaud Delacour. He also gets top Tampa rider Daniel Centeno in the saddle -- and Centeno has some familiarity with NO DOZING, as he also rode him to a second-place finish behind Mo Town in the Remsen (G2). The mile and a sixteenth should be no issue, as he has gone two turns twice already and his breeding suggests distance will suit him. And, he has shown some tactical versatility -- coming from well off the pace in his more recent efforts, but with some performances closer to the pace earlier in his career. All in all, it's close between NO DOZING and MCCRAKEN, and this space will opt for a bit better price on a horse who has trained over the taxing Tampa dirt.
The third choice was close between FACT FINDING and WILD SHOT. Yes, FACT FINDING hails from the barn of Todd Pletcher, the king of the Sam F. Davis. But, the Davis was not his first choice -- he entered the Holy Bull last week, then bowed out for this "easier" spot. The trouble is, this spot did not turn up so easy, and it's hard to like a horse for whom this was Plan B. Instead, WILD SHOT gets the nod. The frontrunning sort hung on for third at bomb odds in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland last fall, then proved his performance no fluke when he stayed on for second behind MCCRAKEN in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) next out. Both his running style and the sequence of bullets leading into this start suggest that WILD SHOT will show sharp early speed, and he should be the one on the front. Given his class, two-turn experience, and guts, this Rusty Arnold trainee should at least hang on for a piece again here.
#9 NO DOZING
#6 WILD SHOT
Longshot: Tampa Bay Downs is a horse-for-course sort of track, and only one Sam F. Davis contender has a win over the local oval: #4 CHANCE OF LUCK. Sent out by the sharp team of trainer Gerald Bennett and rider Ronald Allen, Jr., CHANCE OF LUCK won the six-furlong Inaugural Stakes at Tampa two back, and finished a close second in the seven-furlong Pasco. There was about a month and a half break between those two races; second off that little spell, CHANCE OF LUCK could be sharper. The Davis will be CHANCE OF LUCK's two-turn debut, but being by Skipshot out of an Alphabet Soup mare with many two-turn wins (and a graded placing at ten furlongs), two turns should suit him beautifully. CHANCE OF LUCK will have to take a step forward here, but if he does, he could invade the superfecta at big odds.
Race 11: Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes (G3), four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and on sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 5:15pm EST
This year marks the 18th 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 3 race since 2008. The most accomplished winner of the Endeavour is also its most recent: Tepin, already the champion grass mare of 2015, began another championship season with a victory in the 2016 Endeavour Stakes. Tepin had been expected to begin her season there again, but her connections ruled her out of the race after a minor bout of colic on Sunday. Two other 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. On a more local bent, Lots o' Lex came within a length of stealing the 2015 Endeavour Stakes at 76/1 odds, and Illinois-bred Lovely Loyree finished third last year as the longest shot on the board, after leading much of the way.
Tepin rolls late to win the 2016 Endeavour Stakes. Illinois-bred Lovely Loyree, making her graded stakes debut, holds third.
When the Queen's away, everyone else will play. With Tepin out, the Endeavour drew a field of eleven to contend for a $150,000 purse. On top, this space will take the winner of the local prep allowance: LIGHT IN PARIS. That victory came first off a layoff of almost a year, and even before that layoff LIGHT IN PARIS was suggesting that she belonged against this level of company already. On pace, LIGHT IN PARIS should have the tactical versatility to find a spot near the front of the main pack, rate, and rally at likely pacesetter ISABELLA SINGS late. Add to that, her connections are as sharp as they get. Trainer Chad Brown knows how to win a turf race or two, and owner Martin Schwartz knows how to find a previously French-trained horse who can win stakes races in the states. Though it took a little longer for LIGHT IN PARIS than for some of his other finds, her race last out suggests that things have finally come together.
ISABELLA SINGS should be the speed of the speed here. She probably won't have to pull a Shining Copper like she did in last year's Hillsborough Stakes (G2) at Tampa, running off twenty lengths ahead to try and give Tepin the slip, but she should be on a loose enough lead unless stretch-out sprinter CACTUS COPY goes on a mission of mutually assured destruction. ISABELLA SINGS loves the distance, with four wins and a third in five starts over it. That third came last out in the Marshua's River (G3), but she should be better here, second off a freshening.
LOTS O' LEX made her first big mark in the Endeavour Stakes two years ago, when she just about stole it at 76/1. She won't be 76/1 here, and she won't be stealing it with ISABELLA SINGS in the field, but she is no one-way speed. She has shown the ability to come from a bit off the pace as well, and figures to be near the front of the main pack here. And, if you like LIGHT IN PARIS, you have to give a shot to LOTS O' LEX as well. Yes, LIGHT IN PARIS has the second off the lay factor. But, so does LOTS O' LEX, and she finished just half a length behind LIGHT IN PARIS in the prep allowance. And, with trainer Gerald Aschinger and rider Jesus Castanon flying just a bit more under the radar than LIGHT IN PARIS's connections, LOTS O' LEX should be an appealing price.
#1 LIGHT IN PARIS
#5 ISABELLA SINGS
#9 LOTS O' LEX
Longshot: Just because Tepin is not here does not mean that trainer Mark Casse and jockey Julien Leparoux aren't. They instead team up behind #11 FROSTY FRIDAY, who comes in off a close second in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf at Gulfstream. Though she has only been on the board once in four tries at a mile and a sixteenth, that did come last out, and two out of those three other off-the-board finishes have been very close. FROSTY FRIDAY should be even sharper here than she was last out, given Casse's 20% win rate with runners third off the lay. And, on pace, she has the ability to be forward yet tactical. At a good price, she should be right in the horde running at ISABELLA SINGS late.
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