A Winning Agenda for the Sam F. Davis Stakes

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

Happy February, everyone!

January was a good month on Unlocking Winners. Victories from Greatest Honour in the Holy Bull (G3) and Medina Spirit in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) pushed my record for the year to 8-5-1-2 (62.5% winners, 100% in-the-money) with a return on investment of $3.20 for every $2 wagered. The goal of picking 50% winners in 2021 is still very much alive.

The main race we'll highlight this week is the $250,000 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, a 1 1/16-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race awarding 10 qualification points to the winner. But we'll also take a quick look at two grass races featuring up-and-coming turf stars worth following.

Sam F. Davis (G3)

I must admit to feeling déjà vu when handicapping the Sam F. Davis. The complexion of the field is very similar to last week's Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, with #9 Candy Man Rocket (10-1) playing the role of Prime Factor and #3 Known Agenda (6-1) hopefully filling the shoes of Greatest Honour.

Candy Man Rocket is arguably the flashiest runner in the Sam F. Davis field, and I expect him to start at lower than his 10-1 morning line odds. The son of Candy Ride dominated a six-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream last month, parlaying pace-tracking tactics into a powerful 9 1/4-length romp. The race came back fast on the Beyer and Brisnet speed figure scales, stamping the Bill Mott trainee as an exciting prospect.

But Candy Man Rocket is stepping up significantly in class and distance for the Sam F. Davis, just like Prime Factor in the Holy Bull. And while directly comparing the two isn't quite fair—they're different horses, after all—I'm hesitant to embrace Candy Man Rocket under very similar circumstances. Keep in mind, 13 of the last 15 Sam F. Davis winners had previously contested at least one route race, so Candy Man Rocket will have to defy the trends of history to reach the winner's circle.

#5 Smiley Sobotka (3-1) is a logical alternative after battling to a runner-up effort in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last fall. But the form of the Kentucky Jockey Club hasn't been flattered by recent performances of horses exiting the race. For example, third-place finisher Arabian Prince subsequently ran fifth in the Lecomte (G3), fourth-place runner Swill came back to finish fourth in the Jerome Stakes, and sixth-place finisher Sittin On Go returned to occupy the same slot in the Holy Bull (G3).

That's why I'm throwing my support behind Known Agenda. A son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of Vanity Hanidcap (G1) winner Byrama, Known Agenda is bred to run long and showed plenty of potential in three starts for trainer Todd Pletcher last fall.

Known Agenda kicked off his career in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race at Belmont, where he raced wide before settling for second behind future Nyquist Stakes winner Highly Motivated. Six weeks later, Known Agenda stretched out over 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct and ran a giant race over a slow and tiring track. Locking horns with the above-mentioned Holy Bull winner Greatest Honour, Known Agenda battled the length of the homestretch to prevail by a head.

Notably, Known Agenda and Greatest Honour pulled 21 lengths clear of third-place finisher Overtook, who reiterated the strength of the race by comfortably winning his next start. Overtook is actually entered in Saturday's Withers (G3) at Aqueduct, where he's listed as the 6-1 co-fourth choice on the morning line.

Known Agenda's most recent effort was a bit less inspiring; he failed to threaten for victory when finishing third in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen (G2) on Dec. 5 at Aqueduct. But the Remsen was contested over a sloppy, sealed track, and I got the impression Known Agenda really didn't handle the footing while racing inside for much of the journey. Under the whip on the backstretch, Known Agenda didn't really pick up his feet until shifting outside for the stretch drive. At that point, he finished with interest and managed to improve his Beyer and Brisnet speed figures even in defeat.

Known Agenda has been training strongly for his sophomore debut, clocking five furlongs in a bullet :59 4/5 at Palm Beach Downs two weeks ago. Pletcher has already won the Sam F. Davis half a dozen times and boasts a strong 20-for-58 (40%) record saddling three-year-old males at Tampa since 2016, so there's no reason to think Known Agenda won't be primed for a big effort. With Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the saddle, Known Agenda looks like a formidable win threat at a fair price.

Other races of note

One of the undercard stakes races on Saturday at Tampa is the Tampa Bay Stakes (G3), a 1 1/16-mile turf test for older horses. A dozen runners have been entered, and I'm surprised to see #12 Greyes Creek (4-1) isn't the favorite. If his morning line odds hold up, I'll have to rank him as my best bet of the week, because I believe Greyes Creek is a monster miler in the making.

Some readers might recall how I dedicated an entire blog post to Greyes Creek in mid-December, expounding on his many virtues and sensational acceleration. Fortunately, he delivered on my high expectations in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Gulfstream, sprinting the final five-sixteenths of a mile in :28.63 to win by a length.

That was hardly the first time Greyes Creek has displayed a strong turn-of-foot. In an allowance race at Keeneland last summer, Greyes Creek rocketed the final quarter-mile in :22.31 over a damp course to win by a neck. Even if you're not completely sold on Greyes Creek's talent, you have to respect trainer Chad Brown, who has compiled a stellar 10-5-4-0 record saddling older males in turf routes at Tampa since 2016.

Greyes Creek was actually supposed to contest the Pegasus World Cup (G1) last month, but he wound up #13 on the invitation list and wasn't able to enter. The Tampa Bay Stakes will have to serve as a consolation prize, and while drawing post 12 is less than ideal—he risks a wide trip—I'm optimistic Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will work out a winning journey. When you're riding a rocket like Greyes Creek, you have options to overcome adversity.

Speaking of talented turf horses, I'm also excited to support #2 Jouster in Race 7 on Sunday at Gulfstream Park, 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race. Did you see Jouster's sensational maiden win at Gulfstream last month? The daughter of Noble Mission absolutely freaked in her first start on turf, carving out a steady pace before blazing the final five-sixteenths in :28.13 to trounce her opposition by 8 3/4 lengths.

Jouster was full of run down the homestretch, winning under a hand ride with her ears pricked. Even without giving her absolute best, she hit the finish line in a swift 1:39.92. If Jouster repeats this performance on Sunday, how can anyone beat her? She looms as the lone speed horse on paper for hot jockey/trainer duo Luis Saez and Todd Pletcher, so an uncontested lead should be in the offing. She'll surely start at a short price (morning line odds aren't available yet), but if you're looking for a horse to single in multi-race wagers this weekend, Jouster looks like a great option.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like this week?


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!


The Road to the Kentucky Derby handicapping challenge is back for the seventh straight year! Check out the Road to the Kentucky Derby contest page for more details.

J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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 www.theturfboard.com.

Recent Posts

More Blogs