Talented Field Assembles for the Sam F. Davis

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")

Although it is not an official Kentucky Derby prep race, and thus will not offer Kentucky Derby qualification points to the top four finishers, the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs has drawn a very promising field of twelve colts and geldings, several of which appear to be poised to embark on the Derby Trail if they run well this Saturday. Here are the entries:

# Horse Jockey Trainer Last race
1 Catalina Red Daniel Centeno Chad Stewart 1st Pasco Stakes (VIDEO)
2 Royal Son John Velazquez Todd Pletcher 1st via DQ in Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
3 Ami’s Flatter Luis Contreras Josie Carroll 2nd Mucho Macho Man Stakes (VIDEO)
4 Crittenden Fernando De La Cruz Eoin Harty 1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
5 Divining Rod Luis Garcia Arnaud Delacour 3rd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
6 Bandages Ronald Dale Allen, Jr. Chad Stewart 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
7 Brother Bobo Gabriel Saez Jason Servis 6th Mucho Macho Man Stakes (VIDEO)
8 G Five Rajiv Maragh Todd Pletcher 3rd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
9 My Johnny Be Good Antonio Gallardo Eoin Harty 1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
10 Coomer Julien Leparoux Mike Maker 1st Maiden Claiming
11 Ocean Knight Irad Ortiz, Jr. Kiaran McLaughlin 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
12 Bears Personality Edgar Prado Reade Baker 1st Allowance (VIDEO)

Heading into the race, one of the most well-known starters is Kiaran McLaughlin’s promising colt Ocean Knight. The son of Curlin broke his maiden in impressive fashion at Aqueduct on December 13th, rallying from behind a slow pace to win a six-furlong maiden special weight by 4 ¼ lengths. The final time of 1:11.94 was solid given the pace, and it translated into a respectable Beyer speed figure that is the highest earned by any horse in the Sam F. Davis. But although Ocean Knight merits respect, he will face several major challenges on Saturday: this race will mark his first start against winners, his first start around two turns, and his first start at Tampa Bay Downs, which has a sandy dirt track that some horses like and some horses do not. Additionally, he has drawn wide in post eleven, and may find himself hung wide on one or both of the turns. Under the circumstances, I’m going to take a stand against him.

One horse that has really caught my eye is My Johnny Be Good. A son of my old favorite Colonel John, My Johnny Be Good began his career with a pair of respectable efforts on the Polytrack at Arlington Park, including a 1 ¼-length triumph in a seven-furlong maiden special weight. He was then sent to Keeneland, where he set the early pace in an 8.5-furlong allowance race (VIDEO), gradually retreated throughout the race, and then put in a good late rally to finish second behind the well-regarded Eagle. To that point, My Johnny Be Good looked like a reasonably talented horse, but it was his fourth and most recent start that stamped him as a potential star. Sent off as the odds-on favorite in a six-furlong allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs, My Johnny Be Good pressed excellent early fractions of :22.33 and :45.27, then powered away with ease to win by 14 ½ lengths in the sharp time of 1:09.33. It’s fair to question the caliber of horses that he beat, but regardless, this was a very encouraging performance that suggests My Johnny Be Good is heading in the right direction at the right time. A trio of solid workouts at Tampa since that race, including a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 flat on January 26th, should have him ready to take another step forward on Saturday, and his proven affinity for Tampa makes him a logical choice to upset Ocean Knight. Besides—if he’s half as good at running as he is at playing the guitar, he should win this race without trouble! Go, Johnny, go! (My apologies to those unfamiliar with the song "Johnny B. Goode". :) )

Other colts that I will be watching closely include Catalina Red and Ami’s Flatter. The first-mentioned runner is unbeaten in two starts at Tampa, most recently scoring a gritty neck victory over X Y Jet in the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes. That race was clocked in the track-record time of 1:21.40, and the quality of the race was confirmed when X Y Jet returned to finish a close second in the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park. Now, Catalina Red has never run farther than seven furlongs on dirt, and as a son of the talented sprinter Munnings, he may find the 8.5-furlong distance of the Sam F. Davis to be a bit too long. But his ability to rate, coupled with his exceptional finishing times in sprint races, hints that he might be capable of stretching out under the right circumstances.

As for Ami’s Flatter, he received a ground-saving trip in the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream and parlayed that advantage into a strong runner-up effort, beaten just 1 ¾ lengths by Bluegrass Singer. What was particularly impressive about this performance was that Ami’s Flatter lost almost no ground on the leaders through a rapid second quarter-mile fraction in :21.88 seconds, yet still had enough left in the tank (unlike many of his rivals) to finish fairly well in the homestretch. Drawing post three in the Sam F. Davis is a positive, and his workmanlike effort in the Mucho Macho Man could potentially lead to his offering better odds than My Johnny Be Good, who possesses a much flashier past performance profile. If that is the case, I would strongly consider playing Ami’s Flatter on top in one way or another.

I would also like to briefly mention Crittenden, an intriguing longshot candidate. After opening his career with a pair of dull efforts on Polytrack and dirt, Crittenden was gelded and switched to turf, over which he proceeded to win an 8.5-furlong maiden race by 4 ¾ lengths and an allowance race at that same distance by 2 ½ lengths. It’s hard to say for certain which factor was responsible for Crittenden’s turnaround, but although his dam and half-brother were primarily turf horses, his pedigree (by Distorted Humor with Pulpit as a broodmare sire) lends support to the belief that Crittenden could be effective on dirt as well. Given the quality of the Sam F. Davis field, I can’t imagine Crittenden will go off at less than 8-1, and at that price, I think he’s worth a look for the exotics.

Other Races to Watch

The first grade I race of the year will be held on Saturday, that being the $300,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita for three-year-old fillies. The race has drawn what appears at first glance to be an evenly-matched field of ten, although I am particularly excited to see Glory make her stakes debut. The Jerry Hollendorfer-trained daughter of Tapit broke her maiden in eye-catching fashion last time out, winning a 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight at Santa Anita in the sharp time of 1:15.06, with a final five-sixteenths in a blazing :29.54! Her margin of victory may have been small—only two lengths—but that was because runner-up Wild At Heart ran a huge race as well, finishing 9 ¼ lengths clear of the third-place horse. With a pedigree that suggests she will relish the one-mile distance of the Las Virgenes, I’m really looking forward to seeing Glory run this Saturday, and I believe she has the talent to become a major contender for the Kentucky Oaks.

Another race of note this Saturday is the $75,000 96ROCK Stakes at Turfway Park, a 6 ½-furlong sprint in which Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) fourth-place finisher The Great War will make his seasonal debut. Formerly trained by Aidan O’Brien, The Great War is now under the care of Wesley Ward and is targeting a start in the Spiral Stakes (gr. III) on March 21st at Turfway, with the 96ROCK Stakes being the first step toward that goal.

However, the most exciting race of the weekend will almost certainly be the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) on Sunday at Santa Anita, in which Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Texas Red will make his eagerly-anticipated return against Bob Baffert’s promising maiden winner Punctuate. As I write this, entries have not yet been drawn, but I will post my analysis of the race in a new blog post on Saturday night.

Until then, who do you like in the Sam F. Davis?


In order to aid in keeping track of all the Kentucky Derby prep races and results, I will be posting links to the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule and the Kentucky Derby point standings at the bottom of each Unlocking Winners blog post from now until the Derby. Also, here is the link to the complete entries and current standings for our "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing!

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