2019 Sam F. Davis Stakes Day Preview

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 $250,000 Sam F. Davis (G3) is the local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby.  It is the first of two Derby points races at the track, and offers points allotted 10-4-2-1 to its top four finishes.  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 $150,000 race offers Kentucky Oaks points for the second straight year (10-4-2-1), and is the only Oaks points race on the Tampa calendar.

The two other graded stakes races on the card feature older horses going a route on grass.  The $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes (G3) brings open company, and the $175,000 Endeavour Stakes (G3) is open to fillies and mares.  The Tampa Bay Stakes drew several horses with a link to Chicago: 2018 Arlington Handicap winner Divisidero lines up, as does 2017 Hawthorne Derby winner My Bariley.

This piece features discussion of each race in the usual Picks and Ponderings format, historical notes and longer-form analysis.  If you’re interested in how I’m tackling the late Pick 5, I have a piece on the TwinSpires blog looking at exactly that.

Selections in the Tampa Bay Stakes and Endeavour Stakes are made for turf only.  Updated Saturday, February 9 to account for the scratches of SACRED HEART from the Suncoast, RYMSKA from the Endeavour, and CAVE RUN from the Sam F. Davis.

Race 8: Tampa Bay Stakes (G3), four-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 3:50pm 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.

One horse worth standing against completely is HEART TO HEART.  He has abundant back class, but isn’t in the best of form.  And, with rail-drawn CHEYENNE’S COLONEL as well as IRISH STRAIT doing their better work when showing early speed, as well?  HEART TO HEART Won’t get it easy.  Among the speed brigade, IRISH STRAIT has the best chance of nabbing a share because he is a bit more tactical, but he usually needs the front end to get all the money against better horses.

With that out of the way, who to like?

QURBAAN looms the top win candidate.  He finished a rallying second in a loaded edition of the Fort Lauderdale Stakes in his most recent start, and stands to benefit from the hot pace in front of him this time around.  That came at a mile and an eighth, and the slight cutback in trip may suit this son of Speightstown even better. Rider Joe Bravo returns to the saddle, another good sign.  Bravo rode QURBAAN in the Fort Lauderdale — and not only does he always seem to show up on big days no matter the track, but he’s 18% with a positive ROI over the grass.

The other strong win candidate is INSPECTOR LYNLEY.  Like QURBAAN, INSPECTOR LYNLEY comes out of the Fort Lauderdale.  He finished fourth, a length and three quarters behind the top selection, but he closed like a firecracker despite having trouble in the lane. He should benefit from the early speed in the field, and with a cleaner trip or a better spot he could turn the tables.  INSPECTOR LYNLEY also has form over the course; he won the Tampa Bay Stakes in 2017.

DIVISIDERO is the other who comes out of the Fort Lauderdale. He was fifth, without the excuse of INSPECTOR LYNLEY — not bad, but a bit flat at the end, over a distance that used to be his best. The cutback might help DIVISIDERO, but in recent times he has been more an undersides type against horses of this quality.  With the pace in front of him he should kick on for a spot in the exotics, though it would take a step forward or a couple of misfires for him to outkick everyone.


#4 QURBAAN (3/1)

Longshot:  We’re depending on late-running types in this race given all the speed that entered.  #8 MY BARILEY (15/1), when he is on his best game, has an impressive late kick. It was on display over this course in December when he flew in from the clouds to win at a mile. He was only fourth last time, but that day IRISH STRAIT had it all his own way up front.  This time, MY BARILEY will get far more pace to chase, and he gets back Samy Camacho in the irons.  Camacho, a 29% rider on the Tampa meet, rode MY BARILEY to victory back in December.  With the right setup and a clean trip, he could invade an underneath rung of the exotics as one of the longest shots on the board.

Race 9: Suncoast Stakes, three year old fillies, one mile and forty yards on the dirt, post time 4:22pm EST

This year marks the 39th 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.

Two recent 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 Illinois by Lothenbach Stables, though campaigned by trainer Timothy Hills for Sea Gull Associates after being transferred privately.  Lothenbach Stables enters a horse of their own in this year’s: WINNING ENVELOPE, who they bought after her maiden win at Arlington on Million Day last year, makes her three-year-old debut in the race.

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 (G3) 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.

TWIXT AND SHOUT blossomed when trying two turns on the dirt for the first time, stretching from a sprint to a route at Tampa Bay Downs.  This is quite a class move up from that maiden race, especially since it was a washed-off turf race.  TWIXT AND SHOUT has to beat real dirt horses, and beat winners, and perhaps try and sit a little further off the pace than she did in that last-out race.  But, there’s no shortage of dirt pedigree (and particularly two-turn dirt pedigree), and trainer Eoin Harty and jockey Jesus Castanon have been a 19% pair with positive ROI.  Especially since she’s the type of horse some may back away from, there’s a lot to like at a square price.

You don’t often give horses who break their maidens at Penn National a real chance in Oaks preps, but SWEET DIANE breaks that mold.  She looked to always be intended for two turns, as she debuted at a mile at Presque Isle, missed by a nose, and then aired by 13 lengths when trying dirt at Penn.  She cut back from the two-turn mile to a one-turn mile for the Hut Hut Stakes at Gulfstream, trying tougher.  She rated off the pace, took over, and although she got caught by her late-running stablemate, it’s fair to say SWEET DIANE held her own on a better circuit.  The daughter of Will Take Charge has tactical speed, is bred to prefer the stretch back out to two turns, and can keep going the right way for one of the hottest trainer-jockey pairs on the grounds.  Stidham and jockey Antonio Gallardo have not only been high-percentage connections on their own, but they have won three of their last five together.

TAPIT’S PRINCESS still has a few things to prove.  She has only raced twice, and this is her first start against winners.  Her one start was a gate-to-wire score at Gulfstream, so she needs to prove that she doesn’t need to go gate-to-wire at Gulfstream to do her best.  But?  It’s a positive to see that TAPIT’S PRINCESS woke up on the stretch out to two turns, especially since her breeding (by Tapit out of G1W Lady of Fifty) suggests that’s where she should thrive.  Despite that wonderful breeding, trainer Happy Alter can slide under the radar (like he did when TAPIT’S PRINCESS paid north of 9/1 for her maiden win), and she may be a price again.


#9 SWEET DIANE (3/1)

Longshot:  #1 HER ROYAL HIGHNESS (8/1) has found her stride at Laurel, breaking her maiden at a one-turn mile and then winning even more comfortably when stretched out to the two-turn mile and a sixteenth.  With a few in here who have shown speed, it’s a positive that HER ROYAL HIGHNESS has shown the ability to rate and rally.  The connections also appeal: trainer Graham Motion has won at a strong 24% this meet, and though her regular rider Jorge Vargas rarely goes to Tampa, Vargas has two wins and a third in his three starts at the meet so far.  HER ROYAL HIGHNESS needs a step forward to compete with her toughest foes, but there’s just enough to suggest she has that upside at a price.

Race 10: Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes (G3), four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and on sixteenth miles on the turf, post time 4:52pm EST

This year marks the 20th 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 in 2016 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.

The field has been scratched down to ten with RYMSKA’s defection; she runs in the Suwannee River (G3) at Gulfstream instead.

HAWKSMOOR should finally shake off the second-itis that she kept running into through last year. At this trip and against this set she should be able to control the pace, with SHE’S PRETTY LUCKY going blinkers-off and CONQUEST HARDCANDY tending to rate in recent starts.  (The latter is also cross-entered in the Suwannee River, and has no rider yet named at Tampa.)  Trainer Arnaud Delacour has been working her regularly, he wins at 28% with a small positive ROI with runners laid off over ninety days, and he has HAWKSMOOR in a reasonable level and distance to make a winning return.

The one among the class horses who this space is not buying is GOODYEARFORROSES.  She has not raced in over a year, since November of 2017.  Her worktab has been interspersed with breaks, months at a time, an indication of hit-or-miss attempts for her new connections to bring her back to the track.  After so long away, GOODYEARFORROSES will have to prove she is the same mare, and do so without our money weighing her down.

GET EXPLICIT just turned four, but she held her own in allowances and even a stakes race against older horses on the lawn last year at Woodbine.  Her best races last year aren’t too far away, speed-wise, from what she needs here, and she had every right to have grown up a bit over the winter into her four-year-old year.  GET EXPLICIT also intrigues from the perspective of her human connections.  Trainer Barbara Minshall wins at 20% with a +$0.96 ROI with horses laid off 46-90 days, and she is the only horse that ace grass rider Rafael Hernandez is booked to ride all day.

It intrigues that VIVA VEGAS turns up in this, only because she wasn’t trainer Ignacio Correas’s top finisher in the prep allowance on January 6.  She tracked the pace, briefly led, and finished third beaten three quarters of a length in the prep allowance — but the winner was her stablemate Na Pali Spirit.  Instead of coming back to Tampa, she instead made her next start at Gulfstream, finishing third in a race not quite so classy as this. On one hand, that doesn’t do a lot to frank VIVA VEGAS finishing behind her.  But, on the other?  The prep allowance was VIVA VEGAS’s first start in over two months, and her first for the Correas barn.  When a trainer as sharp as Correas keeps the faith, it would be no surprise to see VIVA VEGAS run into the money.


#6 HAWKSMOOR (3/1)
#7 VIVA VEGAS (12/1)

Longshot:  #3 BONNIE ARCH (15/1) has been laid off since the Cardinal (G3) on November 22. Though at first blush it looks like her form tailed off late in the year, the turf conditions suggests otherwise.  Her last tow races of the year came on less-than-firm going, and her efforts over less-than-firm going are consistently disappointing.  BONNIE ARCH’s outings over firmer ground, even when fresh, have been better.  She has to prove she can run her best at this class level, but with tactical speed and high-percentage connections, she should be able to outrun her odds.

Race 11: Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:25pm 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.

KNICKS GO is the class of the Sam F. Davis field, and there’s a lot to like about him.  Though his biggest triumph came on the lead in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, his effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) was enough to show that he can sit off the pace and rally.  He just got run down by a monster in Game Winner; barring anyone taking a huge step forward, there aren’t any Game Winners here.  He faltered in the Kentucky Jockey Club to end the season — but perhaps he hated the slop, perhaps a long season got up to him, perhaps both.  KNICKS GO has been deliberately pointed to Tampa, and working well locally.  He is the one to beat — if he likes the Tampa track in the afternoon, and if he pops first off the lay.

Those caveats make SO ALIVE an intriguing alternative.  SO ALIVE, a Super Saver half to last year’s Sam F. Davis third-place finisher Vino Rosso, comes out for trainer Todd Pletcher.  Pletcher has already won six editions of the Davis.  SO ALIVE is Pletcher’s sole winner in seven starts this Tampa meet, but it was exactly the sort of win he needed to get primed for this: a score at two turns over dry Tampa dirt, in his first try at two turns, in which he was able to fight and dispense with a foe.  The Tampa main track, a surface that feels like beach sand to walk on, is so notoriously love-it-or-hate-it that you can’t dismiss a local victory lightly.

KENTUCKY WILDCAT should prove another major contender.  He does try two turns for the first time today, though his breeding (by Tapit out of middle-distance MG1W Better Lucky) suggests he will take to it well. But, he has shown a dependable rate-and-rally style in all three starts in New York.  When KENTUCKY WILDCAT finally got off the mark third time out, he beat a horse named Country House, who may be a monster if his next-out Gulfstream maiden-breaker is any indication.  He keeps Joe Bravo, a jockey who does not need to take his track with him, from all three of those starts.  Though this is his first start against winners, the speeds in those most recent two maiden efforts suggest that if he can keep building, he will be a threat in the lane.


#8 SO ALIVE (5/1)
#3 KNICKS GO (5/2)

Longshot:  CAVE RUN originally occupied this spot, but he was a trainer’s scratch.  Instead, the longshot writer will present a #1 COUNTER OFFER (12/1).  The son of Tapizar hails from the barn of Ian Wilkes; Wilkes won this race two years ago with McCraken.  COUNTER OFFER got plenty of foundation, with five starts as a two-year-old.  All but one of those came over the lawn.  His better dirt start came in his three-year-old debut, over this same Tampa track, when he finished a credible second behind SO ALIVE.  COUNTER OFFER’s race was franked further when Go Away, who finished a distant third behind him, switched back to the lawn and ran to the money in an allowance on February 8.  This deep closer keeps Antonio Gallardo aboard from that start, should get plenty of pace to chase, and can at least hit the board at an honest price.

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