2016 Sam F. Davis Stakes Day Preview

Most of the time, when we “take a trip” to cover a race outside of the Chicago area, that trip is figurative.

Not so, this weekend.  This half of Picks and Ponderings has flown south to Tampa Bay Downs for this weekend’s Sam F. Davis day card.


In addition to the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes for sophomores, the card features three more stakes races as well.  Three-year-old fillies have the Suncoast Stakes.  Older turf males shine in the Tampa Bay Stakes (GIII), and fillies and mares have their chance to go two turns on the grass in the Endeavour Stakes (GIII).

For those looking for local rooting interests during the Chicago racing hiatus, you will find them here.  LOVELY LOYREE, 2014’s champion Illinois-bred three-year-old filly and winner of the 2015 Stickney Handicap at Hawthorne, gets a class test in the Endeavour.  She finished second in the local prep allowance last month, and tries graded company for the first time in her career.  MISSALANEY, an Illinois-bred sophomore, tries two turns on dirt for the first time in the Suncoast.   Perhaps she will be a longshot again, but this plucky filly keeps outrunning her odds.  She keyed a superfecta carryover at Hawthorne last fall when she graduated at 28/1 odds, and also finished third in the seven-furlong Gasparilla Stakes last out, at 42/1. You can learn more about LOVELY LOYREE and MISSALANEY, too.

In addition to the action in Tampa Bay, Paul Mazur has you covered for both Kentucky Derby points races this weekend.  He previews Saturday’s El Camino Real Derby (GIII) at Golden Gate Fields, as well as Monday’s Southwest Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park.

Selections in the Endeavour Stakes and the Tampa Bay Stakes are made for turf only.  Updated Saturday, February 13 to account for scratches of PARTISAN POLITICS from the Endeavour, DREAMUP, CRYSTAL’S CANTATA and FOUND A DIAMOND in the Suncoast, and GRAND TITO and FLASHY CHELSEY from the Tampa Bay Stakes.

Race 5: Sam F. Davis Staies (GIII), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 2:15pm 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 III status in 2009.  A prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, five 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), and Burning Roma (2001).  Though no one has yet won the Sam F. Davis and then one of the Triple Crown races, Bluegrass Cat (2006) came closest.  He finished second behind Barbaro on the first Saturday in May, and also finished second behind Jazil in the Belmont.  Bluegrass Cat was the first of five winners that trainer Todd Pletcher has sent forth in this race; Pletcher sends out two of the seven runners in this year’s edition, as well.

Bluegrass Cat outfinishes longshot Deputy Glitters to win the 2006 Sam F. Davis Stakes.

Once again, this race does not offer Road to the Kentucky Derby points.  However, it has a $250,000 purse, and seven three-year-olds will contest for it.  This race looks loaded with speed.  Pasco Stakes winner MORNING FIRE ranks as the speed of it, but GETTYSBURG and AWESOME SLATE have also shown their best on the front as well.  Either they press MORNING FIRE and it falls apart, or MORNING FIRE guns it but cannot quite get there.  Either way, RAFTING looks well set for success.  Though he has been on the shelf since a decisive win in the Smooth Air Stakes last November at Gulfstream Park West, trainer Graham Motion does well off of similar layoffs.  Furthermore, RAFTING has been turning in solid five- and six-furlong drills since early January.  He gets rider Edgar Prado back, he is bred to stretch out past the flat mile of the Smooth Air (by Tapit out of a Kris S. mare), and he should get the stalk-and-pounce trip that has served him so well in his two wins to date.

WHATAWONDERFLWORLD tries dirt for the first time in his career.  He graduated second out on turf, and followed that up with a turf mile allowance.  Both of those wins came against New York-breds.  He made his three-year-old debut in the OBS Championship Stakes, rallying to win at a mile and a sixteenth on the synthetic surface.  Dirt should be within his abilities — he is a Tiz Wonderful half to dirt stakes winner Warriorscmoutoplay, and two other dirt winners.  A stalking to midpack type, he is another who should be well set in the pace scenario, especially if he replicates the late kick he showed in Ocala.

GETTYSBURG is the morning line favourite here, and the Pletcher horse likely to take more money.  However, he still has to prove he is not one-way speed, since MORNING FIRE will almost certainly outgun him out of the gate.  The Pletcher who appeals more here is DESTIN.  He comes in out of a fourth-place finish in the LeComte Stakes.  Oddly enough, he was farther off the pace than he liked to be before, despite the fact that he was first-time blinkers.  The rider change to Pletcher’s main man John Velazquez is a positive here.  DESTIN has a pair of sharp works since that last start.  He should be ready to put in a sharper effort here; expect him to stalk off the likes of MORNING FIRE, AWESOME SLATE, and GETTYSBURG, and gain into the frame late.


#5 RAFTING (7/2)


#3 DESTIN (3/1)

Longshot:  #7 AWESOME SLATE (15/1) was a well-beaten third behind MORNING FIRE in the Pasco Stakes last out.  That was a class test for him, as all of his previous races had been at Northlands Park.  However, there is just enough to give AWESOME SLATE one more chance, particularly at a long price.  That last race was his first since October, so he comes in second off a three-month lay here for 18% second-off trainer Brian Lynch.  He has not tried this distance yet, but romped at a flat mile at Northlands, and has solid distance breeding (Summer Bird out of an Awesome Again mare).  He gets a rider change to Julien Leparoux, as well; Leparoux has booted home four of his last seven for Lynch.  Will improvement second off be enough to win?  Perhaps not, but AWESOME SLATE could invade the exotics for a very long price.

Race 8: Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes (GIII), four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and on sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 3:45 EST

This year marks the 17th 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 as well as 2014 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup winner Crown Queen.  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.  On a more local bent, Lots o’ Lex came within a length of stealing the 2015 Endeavour Stakes at 76/1 odds.  She won a pair of allowances in the Chicago circuit later in the year, and finished second behind LOVELY LOYREE in the Stickney Handicap last October.

This year’s edition of the Endeavour Stakes offers a $150,000 purse, with seven fillies and mares set to answer the call to the post.  The 7/5 morning line on TEPIN does not appear to be one of the great moments in morning line making — this space anticipates something more like 2/5, possibly even 1/5, with a side of bridgejumping.  That said, TEPIN looks like the goods here.  Sure, she has not raced since the Breeders’ Cup, but trainer Mark Casse wins at 17% off lays of three months or more, and TEPIN herself fired fresh off the lay last year.  Furthermore, she will be forwardly placed, and LOVELY LOYREE is the only one in the field who has shown anywhere near the sort of affinity for the lead that TEPIN has.  All of this makes TEPIN a strong single here.

Beyond TEPIN, this looks quite an evenly matched race.  With the pace setup the way it looks, a long price on consistent Illinois-bred LOVELY LOYREE is attractive here.  She is as consistent as it gets — LOVELY LOYREE has not missed the money in her last ten starts.  That includes seven money finishes at this distance, with three wins.  It also includes some speed figures right in range with what she needs to contend for a share here.  She is speedy enough to get a clear lead if TEPIN chooses to sit off, and ratable enough to stalk should TEPIN gun it.  She showed an affinity for the course last out when finishing second in the prep allowance — and though BUREAU DE CHANGE ran her down, she well outperformed the horse she duelled with.  That mare, Speed Seeker, finished a tired sixth.  It was a sharp run for LOVELY LOYREE, period, but even better in light of the fact that it was her first race in almost three months.  Finally, her connections are red-hot.  Trainer Michele Boyce has won at a 26% clip this Tampa meet, including three wins last weekend.  Rider Fernando De La Cruz has taken eight mounts for her over the last two months — and has four wins, seven money finishes, and a robust +$5.85 ROI to show for it.  You’re getting a lot for the longest shot on the morning line.

There is almost as much to like with LADY LARA, albeit for a bit shorter price.  Though LADY LARA has often come from well off the pace, she showed a nice stalking dimension last out when she won the My Charmer Handicap (GIII).  As a frenetic pace seems unlikely here, that should help LADY LARA’s case.  It is like splitting hairs — LADY LARA is probably a bit faster than LEXIE LOU, who also has a stalking dimension, and can likely sit in a bit better place than PHOTO CALL or BUREAU DE CHANGE.  LADY LARA does come in first off a layoff, but that has not posed a problem before — last year, first off an even longer lay, she kicked on well to win the Grade II Honey Fox at Gulfstream.  She has also never missed the board in three tries at this distance.

Is this to say that others can’t get a share?  No.  LEXIE LOU should improve off her third in the prep allowance, and PHOTO CALL is hard to count out on connections alone.  Really, past TEPIN, an argument can be made that anyone here could score a slot on the podium.  LOVELY LOYREE is the price and pace play, and LADY LARA can stalk and fires well off lays.  They’re slight distinctions, but they are distinctions nonetheless.


#5 TEPIN (7/5)


#3 LADY LARA (4/1)

Longshot:  You do see two horses above who are not named TEPIN, yes?

Race 9: Suncoast Stakes, three year old fillies, one mile and forty yards on the dirt, post time 4:15pm EST

This year marks the 36th 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 Illinois-bred MISSALANEY wins the Suncoast this year, she would become the second Illinois-bred to do so.  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 the Suncoast Stakes, 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’s Suncoast Stakes drew a field of 12 to contest for a $100,000 purse.  The field looks well matched, the sort of race in which it is difficult to take chalk.  The pace is also a bit of a question — it hinges on how well HEY GIRL HEY, LOOKING AT BEAUTY, and WILD RIDGE are able to keep VALUEABLE CHARMER honest early.  If VALUEABLE CHARMER does get a lot of pressure early, it should set up very well for WEEP NO MORE to mow them down.  She comes into this race second off a break.  In that first race back, on January 22, she graduated over this same course and distance, with rider Victor Lebron in the irons.  Lebron returns here.  Trainer George Arnold has been choosy with his spots this Tampa meet, with two wins and a second in just five starts.  He also boasts a 20% win rate with last out maiden winners.  This looks like a sharp spotting for WEEP NO MORE: she has strong late pace, she has form over the love-it-or-hate-it Tampa course, and one reasonable step forward from her maiden win gets this race won at a solid price.

On the other hand, VALUEABLE CHARMER could just be too fast for the rest early.  On top of that, she has shown an ability to survive pressure early and then get home.  It seems unlikely that she will do anything but send, as she is on the stretch out, and has done he best work from on or near the lead.  The fact that she has survived pressure on the front end before gives her a shot to stay on to be a factor late.  Furthermore, VALUEABLE CHARMER has never lost a race over fast dirt, including a pair of wins over the Tampa dirt for 29% conditioner Gerald Bennett.  Though she faltered in the Gasparilla Stkaes last out, her first try against added-money company, R Girls a Charmer outgunned her out of the gate that day, and she was taken out of her element.  Though VALUEABLE CHARMER is probably one-way speed, she looks comparably fast enough that it could bail her out.

Trainer Eoin Harty originally had a pair of entrants, but DREAMUP scratched the day of the race.  That leaves ups with morning line favourite COSMIC GIRL, second last out in the Gasparilla.  She will likely be a short price, but after her second-place run behind buzzsaw R Girls a Charmer, she does loom large here.  In addition to that stakes second, she also has a win over the Tampa dirt, an authoritative allowance score going seven furlongs back in December.  She has every right to appreciate the stretch to two turns.  Though COSMIC GIRL faltered in her one previous two-turn try at Keeneland, she was on the lead that day.  Assuming COSMIC GIRL gets her better midpack spot today, her breeding makes her well worth another shot at two turns.


#3 WEEP NO MORE (12/1)


#7 COSMIC GIRL (3/1)

Longshot:  With original longshot CRYSTAL’S CANTATA out, and two longer shots already in the main selections, the longshot writer will gracefully bow out.

Race 10: Tampa Bay Stakes (GIII), four year olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 4:45pm 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 III 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 (GIII) 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.

Shug McGaughey does not always run horses at Tampa, but when he does, they win.  He has been a sniper of sorts, with two wins in two starts this meet.  It is a small sample, of course, but do not be surprised if he makes it three-for-three with RELOAD here.  RELOAD races for the first time since November, but McGaughey wins at 21% off of similarly long lays, and RELOAD himself has fired some of his sharpest races fresh off a lay.  With regular works dating back to late December, he should be fit enough to do so once again.  He also reverts to rider Javier Castellano, who rode him for a string of six consecutive starts between 2013 and 2015.  In terms of pace, RELOAD has a strong versatility.  He can take the lead, or he can rally from as far back as midpack.  Expect a rally, as longshot SPARK KIT is most likely to go, with SOLEMN TRIBUTE, SPECIAL ENVOY and SKY CAPTAIN most likely to try to stick to his heels — but all of these have also run creditable races while rated, giving RELOAD that flexibility to send if he must.

OLD TIME HOCKEY has shown strong form over the grass at Tampa Bay Downs, with two wins and a second to show for three starts over the course.  The second-place finish came in this race last year, when he went off as a 24/1 outsider.  That came first off a lay; this year, OLD TIME HOCKEY has gotten a race under him already.  Though he was fifth against a bit weaker company last out in the Sunshine Millions Turf, a reasonable step forward from this would be nothing he hasn’t shown before.  He also comes from connections you can trust at Tampa Bay Downs.  Trainer Tom Proctor has a 17% win rate this meet.  Ronald Allen, Jr., OLD TIME HOCKEY’s regular rider, is also a regular rider at Tampa — and has a 20% strike rate this meet.  In short, watch for OLD TIME HOCKEY to come rallying late for a good price.  WAR CORRESPONDENT also deserves a look.  He is a stalking type — best when tracking a length or two off the lead, but with excellent late pace when he fires.  This style should suit the race well.  Though WAR CORRESPONDENT was seventh last out in the Fort Lauderdale (GII), he was only beaten three lengths for all of it, and that was his first race since May.  He finished two and a half lengths behind Lukes Alley — a next-out Grade I winner in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.  All Included, third in the Fort Lauderdale, returned to finish third in the Gulfstream Park Turf, just a length behind Lukes Alley.  The humans also bolster his case.  Trainer Christophe Clement is 20% with runners second off the lay, and has hit the board with three of four runners at Tampa this meet.  Rider John Velazquez returns to the irons; the only other time he rode War Correspondent, they won the Appleton Stakes (GIII) last year.


#7 RELOAD (6/1)



Longshot:  #11 KARIBU GARDENS (6/1) comes into this race second off the lay.  First back, the Josie Carroll trainee steamrolled an allowance field at Gulfstream Park.  With early zip likely from several of the runners here, KARIBU GARDENS regularly musters very strong late pace.  He also gets Joe Bravo back in the irons; Bravo does not ride regularly at Tampa, but he is a jockey who can travel just about anywhere and be live.  KARIBU GARDENS also has a strong record at the distance of this race — in four tries at a mile and a sixteenth on grass, he has two wins (including that last-out victory) and a third.  With so many other solid horses in the field, perhaps he gets lost in the shuffle and drifts higher than his morning line.  If that happens, he has a shot at a nice price.


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