Grade I winner Knicks Go heads a field of 10 3-year-olds entered in Saturday's 39th edition of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the centerpiece of Festival Preview Day 39 Presented by Lambholm South at Tampa Bay Downs.
The Sam F. Davis, contested at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track, is the 11th race on a 12-race card scheduled to begin at 12:12 p.m. The race is a "Road to the Kentucky Derby" points race, awarding 10-4-2-1 points to the first four finishers toward qualifying for a berth in the Run for the Roses on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
Three other stakes are scheduled Saturday, with two on the turf: the 33rd running of the Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward, scheduled as the eighth race, and the 20th edition of the Grade III, $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour, for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward, which is the 10th race.
Both turf events are a mile-and-a-sixteenth in distance.
The fourth stakes on the Festival Preview Day 39 card is the 39th running of the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40-yards on the main track. The Suncoast is the ninth race.
||Going for Gold
|Robert Hess, Jr.
||Five Star General
||Jorge Vargas, Jr.
By virtue of his victory in the Grade I Claiborne Breeders' Futurity on Oct. 6 at Keeneland, Knicks Go will carry top weight of 124 pounds in the Sam F. Davis. Owned by KRA Stud Farm and trained by Ben Colebrook, Knicks Go will be ridden by Albin Jimenez and break from the No. 3 post position.
The Maryland-bred Knicks Go finished second in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs.
Two other stakes winners are entered in the Sam F. Davis. Five Star General, owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International and SF Racing and trained by Arnaud Delacour, won the Central Park Stakes on Nov. 22 at Aqueduct. He will be ridden by Jose Ortiz and break from the No. 7 post while carrying 118 pounds.
The other stakes winner in the field is Well Defined, a Florida-bred gelding who won the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association Florida Sire In Reality Stakes on Sept. 29 at Gulfstream. He will break from the No. 9 post under Pablo Morales and carry 122 pounds. Well Defined is bred and owned by Stonehedge and trained by Kathleen O'Connell.
On Saturday, February 9 the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-old Triple Crown hopefuls is expected to draw many top Thoroughbreds in training to Tampa Bay Downs.
The mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis is a Road to the Kentucky Derby points race, with the top four finishers being awarded points on a 10-4-2-1 scale toward qualifying for the 145th Run for the Roses on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
The 39th edition of the Sam F. Davis attracted 43 nominations, headed by the attractive gray colt Knicks Go. He won the Grade I Claiborne Breeders' Futurity on October 6 at Keeneland and finished second to Game Winner in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile on November 2 at Churchill Downs.
Knicks Go breezed 5 furlongs at Tampa Bay Downs in 58 2/5 seconds with veteran jockey Jesse Garcia aboard.
The workout was a "bullet," meaning it was the fastest of 39 at the distance Saturday. The previous Saturday, Knicks Go breezed 4 furlongs in 47 seconds flat, the fastest of 72 half-mile efforts that day.
"It (the 5-furlong move) probably was a little faster than we planned," trainer Ben Colebrook said, "but (Garcia) is a light rider and Knicks Go did it really easy. He finished up with good energy and galloped out strong. We had given him some time off after his last start (an off-the-board finish in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 24 on a sloppy Churchill Downs surface) and he had put on some weight since, so he needed a serious work.
"He was savaging his feed tub later on and happy this morning," Colebrook said. "This was the big work, but we'll give him an easier half-mile next week and hopefully be ready for the Sam F. Davis. He is easy to train, he tries hard every time and he is a pleasure to be around."
Knicks Go is owned by KRA Stud Farm and is ridden in his races by Albin Jimenez.
Other intriguing Sam F. Davis nominees include Grade II winner Call Paul and impressive Pasco Stakes winner Win Win Win.
Does a Grade III Sam F. Davis winner enter the most hallowed ground in racing on the first Saturday in May this year?
After winning the 2006 Sam F. Davis Stakes and finishing second in the (then)-Grade III Tampa Bay Derby, Bluegrass Cat rallied for a second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, behind the ill-fated Barbaro.
That's the closest a Sam F. Davis entrant has come to winning the Run for the Roses, but the law of averages suggests that drought could end in the near future (wishful thinking, admittedly, by Tampa Bay Downs officials, and completely discarding the Bob Baffert factor). Since 2004, the Sam F. Davis - which achieved Grade III status in 2009 -has produced at least one Kentucky Derby starter in all but two years.
In the last three years alone, the $250,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis has yielded a Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and Belmont Stakes winner in Tapwrit; a Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner, Belmont runner-up and multiple-Grade II winner in Destin; a Grade I winner on both dirt and turf in Catholic Boy; and McCraken, who set a then-track record of 1:42.45 in the 2017 Sam F. Davis and just missed that summer in the Grade I Haskell Invitational.
And Bluegrass Cat didn't fare too badly after the Kentucky Derby, finishing second in the Belmont and Travers and winning the Haskell Invitational.
So when a group of 3-year-old colts enters the starting gate on Saturday, Feb. 9 for this year's Sam F. Davis, it's important to remember this is an early sophomore prep and that several (most, in fact, if their trainers have their way) are still maturing physically and mentally toward peak career performances.
Inaugurated in 1981, the same year as the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, the Sam F. Davis has been won by a veritable "who's-who" of trainers: Todd Pletcher (six times), Nick Zito, John Terranova, II, Kiaran McLaughlin, Ian Wilkes and Mark Casse. Their fondness for the track's deep, sand-based surface that promotes fitness and endurance is further proof of the race's importance, as is its status as a "Road to the Kentucky Derby Prep Season" points race.
The 145th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs is May 4.
The Sam F. Davis is the centerpiece of Festival Preview Day 39 Presented by Lambholm South, with four stakes worth a cool $750,000 in purse money, three of the graded-stakes variety. Among those confirmed as likely to compete are trainer Arnaud Delacour's Five Star General, a stakes winner at Aqueduct last fall, who breezed 5 furlongs here Tuesday in 1:01 1/5; and Pletcher's So Alive, a conditional allowance winner here on Jan. 6 and a son of Pletcher's 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, who finished third in that year's Tampa Bay Derby.
Also confirmed as likely Sam F. Davis starters are H. Graham Motion's Still Dreaming; Kentucky Wildcat, trained by Thomas Albertrani; Counter Offer, trained by Wilkes; and Cave Run, trained by Eoin Harty.
Kathleen O'Connell's stakes winner Well Defined, Pletcher's Country House and Bill Mott's Tacitus are currently listed as possible Sam F. Davis starters.
About the Sam F. Davis Stakes
The Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) is a 1 1/16 mile race for 3-year-olds held at Tampa Bay Downs in early February.
It first ran in 1981 and has attracted better quality fields as the years have gone by. It was upgraded to grade three status in 2009, and since 2017 it has been part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series. The first four finishers are granted points on a 10-4-2-1 basis.
Among the winners of the Sam F. Davis Stakes that helped it improve its status were Bluegrass Cat (subsequently runner-up in the Kentucky Derby), grade one winner Any Given Saturday, and Belmont Stakes runner-up Destin.
The Sam F. Davis Stakes is also an important lead-up to the Tampa Bay Derby, held a few weeks later. Destin was the last to complete the double in 2016; others to do so were Phantom Jet (1987), Speedy Cure (1991), Marco Bay (1993), Thundering Storm (1996) and Burning Roma (2001).