By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The Road to the Kentucky
Derby continues on Saturday with a pair of competitive qualifiers on opposite coasts
of the country.
The Sam F. Davis S. (G3) at
Tampa Bay Downs and the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields have both
drawn large fields. Let's dig in and handicap each race:
Sam F. Davis S. (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs
A deep group has assembled
for the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis, with #3
Classic Causeway (3-1) looming as a logical favorite. What's not to like?
The son of Giant's Causeway held his own against tough competition last season,
carving out the pace to finish third in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) before
switching to stalking tactics for a runner-up effort in the Kentucky Jockey
Club S. (G2).
But is Classic Causeway the
fastest horse in the Sam F. Davis? Not necessarily. In terms of Beyer and
Brisnet speed figures, #8 Shipsational (6-1)
has posted faster figures running long, suggesting a mild upset could be in the
A troubled fourth-place
finish in the Funny Cide S. at Saratoga stands as Shipsational's only blemish
from four starts. Otherwise, the son of Midshipman has been unstoppable. He was
particularly sharp at Belmont Park last fall, winning the seven-furlong Bertram
F. Bongard S. and the one-mile Sleepy Hollow S. in consecutive fashion.
Shipsational has pacesetting
speed, but isn't a need-the-lead type, affording him options for working out a
clean trip in the Sam F. Davis. Trainer Edward Barker has won with his lone starter
at Tampa this year (the maiden claimer Idaka), and jockey Javier Castellano
(10-for-25, 40% riding at Tampa since 2017) has been assigned the mount.
Some folks might point out
Shipsational is stepping up in class; so far, he's run exclusively against New
York-breds. But it's worth noting Bertram F. Bongard runner-up Senbei (winner of
the Funny Cide) came back to dominate two other New York-bred stakes, so it's
not like Shipsational has beaten unheralded rivals.
The other question facing
Shipsational is the layoff; he hasn't run since October. But Idaka was likewise
shipping in from Belmont and returning from a layoff, so there's reason to
believe Shipsational will be primed for a peak effort off the break. Certainly
his work tab looks solid; he even clocked a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 at
Tampa last month.
At 6-1, Shipsational looks
like a fair bet to upset Classic Causeway in the Sam F. Davis.
El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields
Since the El Camino Real
Derby transitioned to Golden Gate's synthetic Tapeta track in 2009, the 1
1/8-mile race has frequently been won by Southern California shippers with promising
turf form. Rombauer (2021), Paved (2018), Frank Conversation (2016), Metaboss
(2015), Dice Flavor (2013), Daddy Nose Best (2012), and Silver Medallion (2011)
all fit this trend quite nicely.
That's why I'm keen to
support #2 Mackinnon (8-5) in this
year's edition of the El Camino Real Derby. His turf form is impeccable; in
five grass runs against quality competition last season, Mackinnon never missed
the trifecta. He came to hand nicely during the summer and fall, rallying to
dominant victories in the Del Mar Juvenile Turf S. and Zuma Beach S. before
finishing a game third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), beaten only 1
But Mackinnon is arguably
more than a turf horse. In the Sham S. (G3) over the Santa Anita main track
last month, Mackinnon ran well to finish fourth, beaten less than a length for
second place. The top three finishers were Newgrange (subsequent winner of the Grade
3 Southwest S.), Rockefeller (previously victorious in the Grade 3 Nashua S.),
and Oviatt Class (third in the Grade 1 American Pharoah S.).
From a pedigree perspective,
Mackinnon is bred to thrive over artificial footing. American Pharoah broke his
maiden in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) on synthetic, while dam sire Scat Daddy
sired major winners across all surfaces, including El Camino Real Derby winners
Daddy Nose Best, Dice Flavor, and Anothertwistafate.
Throw in the fact trainer
Doug O'Neill (2-for-6, 33% at Golden Gate this meet) won the 2016 El Camino
Real Derby with the capable Southern California turf runner Frank Conversation,
and Mackinnon looks like a standout in the El Camino Real Derby. I expect him
to deliver victory at a short price.
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the weekend Kentucky Derby preps?
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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.