J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
it offers no qualification points for the Kentucky Derby, the $250,000 Sam F.
Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs has nevertheless drawn a quality
field of seven three-year-olds hoping to use the race as a springboard to
bigger and better things down the road. In particular, the Sam F. Davis serves
as a prep for the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II)-a race that awards 50
Kentucky Derby points to the winner-meaning that the Sam F. Davis Stakes could potentially
have a significant impact on the Derby trail. Let's take a look at the entries!
|No More Chillin
|3rd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
|1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
|4th LeComte Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
|1st OBS Championship Stakes
|1st Smooth Air Stakes (VIDEO)
|1st Pasco Stakes (VIDEO)
|3rd Pasco Stakes (VIDEO)
Todd Pletcher has won this race five times
since 2006, most recently with Vinceremos in 2014, and figures to have a strong
chance again with Gettysburg and Destin. The latter colt broke his
maiden impressively at Belmont on October 11th before finishing second
after a slightly tricky trip in a one-mile allowance race on December 18th
at Gulfstream. Last time out, he tried two turns in the LeComte Stakes (gr.
III) at Fair Grounds and turned in a decent effort while finishing fourth.
After rating several lengths off the early pace, he dropped back on the turn
and appeared to be on his way to a distant defeat, but he actually re-rallied
quite well in the final furlong, finding his best stride late in the race to be
beaten just five lengths. Notably, he turned in a similar effort in his
allowance race, coming under pressure on the turn and dropping back before
re-rallying in the final furlong.
But Destin could face a stiff challenge from
Gettysburg, who enters the Sam F. Davis off an impressive 4 ½-length victory in
a nine-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream on January 9th. A son of
Pioneerof the Nile, Gettysburg has a lot of tactical speed and should be able
to utilize it while starting from post two, and given that Tampa Bay Downs has
been playing somewhat kindly toward speed as of late, this could give
Gettysburg a significant advantage over Destin.
Another major contender is Rafting, a Graham Motion-trained runner
that broke his maiden sprinting at Saratoga before finishing third despite an
odd trip in an 8.5-furlong allowance race at Keeneland. He ended 2015 with a
win in the one-mile Smooth Air Stakes on November 28th at Gulfstream
Park West, a race in which he won by 2 ¼ lengths over Fellowship, who later
finished a good third in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park.
Since then, Rafting has trained well for his
return, culminating with two five-furlong workouts at Palm Meadows in the times
of 1:00 4/5 and 1:00 3/5. Edgar Prado, who just recently returned to riding
after suffering an injury late last year, will have the mount. In terms of
speed figures, Rafting is a little slower than some of his key rivals, but my
gut feeling is that he has a lot of potential and can step up in a big way on
Saturday, especially if he can work out a nice trip stalking the leaders
without losing too much ground.
Respect must also be given to Morning Fire, who has been a picture of
consistency so far, crossing the wire first, second, or third in all eight of
his races to date. Last time out, he won the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes here at
Tampa Bay Downs in gate-to-wire fashion, earning an impressive 90 Beyer speed
Having a win over the occasionally tricky
sandy track at Tampa Bay Downs is an advantage for Morning Fire, although it's
worth noting that in the last ten years, only one winner of the Sam F. Davis
Stakes prepped at Tampa Bay Downs-the majority of them have shipped in from
Gulfstream. In addition, the Sam F. Davis will mark Morning Fire's first start
around two turns, and since his performances so far have hinted that he might
be best sprinting, he looks like a better candidate to round out the exacta or
trifecta than to finish first.
A potential wildcard in the Sam F. Davis is
Mark Casse's Whatawonderflworld, who
will be making his debut on dirt this Saturday. The son of Tiz Wonderful
started his career on turf, where he finished third in his debut before winning
a seven-furlong maiden race and a one-mile allowance race, showcasing a nice
late run on both occasions. In his 2016 debut, he switched to synthetic for the
OBS Championship Stakes at the Ocala Training Center, which he won by a length
over a quality field that included Golden Ray-who beat Destin in the December
18th allowance race at Gulfstream-as well as Isofass, who finished
third behind the promising Battery in an allowance race at Gulfstream on
The question is, can Whatawonderflworld
transfer his good form to dirt? He's been training over the synthetic track at
the Ocala Training Center since late last year, but did post some respectable
workouts on dirt at Belmont last fall, including five furlongs in a bullet 1:00
flat on November 6th. It's also worth noting that Mark Casse and
jockey Jose Lezcano have been quite a team over the last year, winning at a 25%
rate with a $2.75 ROI according to statistics published by the Daily Racing
As you can see, there are a number of
talented horses in the Sam F. Davis, and the race looks very evenly-matched on
paper. In the end, I'll look for the Gulfstream Park shippers and Todd Pletcher
angles to prevail and make Gettysburg
my selection to win, with utmost respect to Rafting as a major contender for victory. For the exotics, I would
definitely consider Morning Fire as
a contender to set the pace and hang on for a strong finish, with Destin and Whatawonderflworld being logical candidates for the trifecta and
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the
Sam F. Davis Stakes?
To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website http://www.theturfboard.com/.