Pletcher Sends Two for Sam F. Davis

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Although 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!

#HorseJockeyTrainerLast race
1No More ChillinH. Villa-GomezRon Potts3rd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
2GettysburgJavier CastellanoTodd Pletcher1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
3DestinJohn VelazquezTodd Pletcher4th LeComte Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)
4WhatawonderflworldJose LezcanoMark Casse1st OBS Championship Stakes
5RaftingEdgar PradoGraham Motion1st Smooth Air Stakes (VIDEO)
6Morning FireDaniel CentenoKeith Nations1st Pasco Stakes (VIDEO)
7Awesome SlateJulien LeparouxBrian Lynch3rd 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 figure.

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 February 10th.

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 Form.

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 superfecta.

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

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