Unbeaten Independence Hall drew the No. 4 post position for Saturday's Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the centerpiece of Festival Preview Day 40 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Eight 3-year-old Thoroughbreds are entered in the Sam F. Davis, a mile-and-a-sixteenth race on the main track. The Sam F. Davis is part of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" qualifying series, with points awarded to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
The Sam F. Davis is scheduled as the 11th race on a 12-race card. Post time for the first race Saturday is 12:12 p.m. Several of the top jockeys in the country will be in Oldsmar for Festival Preview Day 40, including John Velazquez, Jose Ortiz, Joel Rosario, Julien Leparoux and Tyler Gaffalione.
Independence Hall, who won the Grade III Nashua on Nov. 3 at Aqueduct by 12 ¼ lengths and the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on Jan. 1 by 4 lengths, will be racing around two turns for the first time in four career starts while carrying co-top weight of 122 pounds. Those factors didn't stop the morning-line handicapper from making him a 6-5 favorite.
Jose Ortiz will be in to ride Independence Hall.
||No Getting Over Me
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"In horse racing, there are a lot of circumstances that can come into play," said Michael Trombetta, the trainer of Independence Hall. "You have a lot of horses testing the waters (Saturday) to see how good they are, and all of us have the same goal: to see how far they can take us. We'd love to show up and run big and win the race, but the big picture is a little further down the line."
Referring, of course, to the 146th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 2 at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who won the 2016 Sam F. Davis Stakes with Ocean Knight, is sending his colt Ajaaweed, a Shadwell Stable-owned homebred who finished a fast-closing second in the Grade II Remsen Stakes on Dec. 7 at Aqueduct. That race was a mile-and-an-eighth, the second time he has raced around two turns.
Rosario will ride Ajaaweed, who has turned in a string of solid workouts at McLaughlin's Palm Meadows Training Center base in Boynton Beach, Fla., in preparation for the Sam F. Davis.
McLaughlin praised Ajaaweed's performance in the Remsen, in which he missed catching Shotski by a half-length despite racing wide on the final turn. "The race was on a track that had been favoring speed all day, and he was the only one who really closed," McLaughlin said.
"He was unlucky not to win, but we were very pleased with his effort. He's doing very well and we're excited about getting his 3-year-old campaign started and taking the first step to the first Saturday in May, if he'll take us there," McLaughlin said.
All-Stakes Cross Country Pick 5 featuring the G3 Sam F. Davis
The New York Racing Association will host an all-stakes Cross Country Pick 5 on Saturday, February 8 with racing action from Aqueduct Racetrack, Oaklawn Park and Tampa Bay Downs.
The multi-race wager, hosted by NYRA and featuring a 50-cent minimum, will begin with the $100,000 Jimmy Winkfield from Aqueduct for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs, carded as Race 8 at 4:25 Eastern.
Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott will send out Secret Rules in search of a third straight score following an impressive 8 ¾ length victory on January 10 at Aqueduct. Newstome, for trainer Mike Trombetta, will look to regroup off a third-place finish in the Pennsylvania Nursey on December 7 at Parx. Other challengers in the seven-horse Jimmy Winfield include Quixotic for trainer Jonathan Thomas, who enters Saturdays' test from a 4 ¼ length maiden victory in which he recorded a field-high 80 Beyer Speed Figure and Montauk Traffic for Aqueduct meet-leading trainer Linda Rice.
The action then switches to Tampa Bay Downs for the next three legs beginning with the $150,000 Suncoast, a Kentucky Oaks qualifying points race with a field of nine led by Gary Barber's multiple-stakes winner Two Sixty, who has banked $409,000 for trainer Mark Casse and the Grade 1-placed Comical, who captured the Grade 3 Schuylerville for trainer Steve Asmussen in a juvenile campaign that included a third in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante and a second in the Grade 1 Chandelier at Santa Anita.
The third leg of the sequence is the Grade 3, $175,000 Tampa Bay for 4-year-olds and upward going 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Multiple graded-stakes winner Caribou Club, trained by Tom Proctor, enters from a game second-place finish in the Artie Schiller at Aqueduct. Conditioner Mike Maker entered graded stakes winner Hembree for his seasonal debut in a talented field of nine that also includes March to the Arch for Casse and French-bred gelding Devamani for trainer Chad Brown.
Closing out the action from Tampa is the 40th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis where the undefeated Independence Hall, who captured the Grade 3 Nashua and $150,000 Jerome at the Big A for trainer Michael Trombetta, will continue his road to the Kentucky Derby. A talented eight-horse field includes Shadwell Stables recent Grade 2 Remsen runner-up Ajaaweed and the undefeated Premier Star for trainer Jorge Navarro.
The last leg of the sequence is the King Cotton from Oaklawn Park, a six-furlong sprint for 4-year-olds and upward carded as Race 8. Multiple graded-stakes winner Whitmore for conditioner Ron Moquett and owners Robert LaPenta, Southern Springs Stables and Head of Plains Partners will make his 2020 debut in the field of eight that includes multiple graded-stakes placed runners Nun the Less for trainer Cipriano Contreras and Wilbo for Chris Hartman.
The minimum bet for the multi-track, multi-race wager is 50 cents.
Independence Hall Perfect In Workout For G3 Sam F. Davis
Perfection is difficult to achieve on the racetrack, so trainer Michael Trombetta settled for the next-best thing this morning in Independence Hall's final workout for Saturday's Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes.
"He kicked on nice. I'm very happy with the breeze," Trombetta said after his assistant, Sarah Shaffer, worked the 3-year-old colt in 48 3/5 seconds on the fast Tampa Bay Downs main track. "The way he started off (an opening eighth of a mile in about 13 seconds), you wouldn't have thought he'd breeze in 48 and change.
"The `ask' was somewhere in the 48-49 range and out in 1:01 range, and he galloped out in 1:00 4/5. So if you're choosier than that, you'll never be happy."
With the exception of some pre-race shenanigans in the paddock before his victory in the Jerome Stakes on Jan. 1 at Aqueduct, Independence Hall has done nothing to cause his connections to fret. He'll likely be a heavy favorite when he goes in search of his fourth victory in four starts in the 40th running of the mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis, a "Road to the Kentucky Derby" points race for 3-year-olds.
Jose Ortiz will be in town to ride Independence Hall, who is owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creeks Racing Stables, Kathleen Verratti and Robert Verratti.
Saturday's upcoming Festival Preview Day (so named because it leads to the March 7 Festival Day, featuring the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby) includes three other stakes races in addition to the Sam F. Davis, two of them graded events on the turf course.
The Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes is for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass, while the Grade III, $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes is for fillies and mares 4-and-upward going a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the grass.
The lone non-graded stakes is the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes, a mile-and-40-yard main-track event for 3-year-old fillies. The Suncoast is a "Road to the Kentucky Oaks" points race.
Independence Hall came to Tampa Bay Downs five days after his Jerome Stakes victory. In addition to breezing four times at the Oldsmar oval, he has "schooled" four times in the paddock, three times during afternoon racing, to acclimate himself to his surroundings in preparation for Saturday's expected large crowd.
"Knock wood, he's been good," said Trombetta, who says Independence Hall "beat the hell out of all of us" before the Jerome. "He gets a little excited, but I think he wants to get out there and do something."
The long-range objective for Independence Hall is to make the starting gate for the 146th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 2 at Churchill Downs in Louisville. Independence Hall picked up 10 points for winning the Grade III Nashua Stakes on Nov. 3 at Aqueduct, and a victory Saturday would add 10 to his total.
The connections had considered making his next start on Feb. 15 at Fair Grounds in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford-Lincoln. That races awards 50 points to the winner, and with the Kentucky Derby limited to 20 starters, owners and trainers can never be sure what points total they might need to qualify.
But given the manner in which Independence Hall has settled in here, managing partner Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners made the call to contest the Sam F. Davis.
"The (difference in points) was part of the decision process, but the owners feel the points will come if the horse is right," Trombetta said. "This race is here at the track he's training on, and the other one is 600 miles away at a track he's never seen. You weight all these things, then everybody has to be happy with whatever decision is made and you just roll with it."
Road to the Kentucky Derby: Undefeated Independence Hall Tops Nominees For Sam F. Davis Stakes 2020
The four stakes races on the Feb. 8 Festival Preview Day card at Tampa Bay Downs have attracted a total of 137 nominations, Stakes Coordinator Gerry Stanislawzyk announced today.
Heading the card is the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a "Road to the Kentucky Derby" prep race offering qualifying points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale. The 40th edition of the Sam F. Davis is for 3-year-olds at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track.
In addition to being a points race for the May 2 Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs, the Sam F. Davis is a prep race for the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 7, which is Festival Day at Tampa Bay Downs.
Among the top nominees to the Sam F. Davis is Independence Hall, who turned in a 5-furlong workout in a minute flat today at Tampa Bay Downs - the fastest of 34 workouts recorded at the distance - under the watchful eyes of trainer Michael Trombetta. The colt is 3-for-3, including victories in the Grade III Nashua Stakes on Nov. 3 at Aqueduct and the Jerome Stakes on Jan. 1 at Aqueduct.
After the workout, Trombetta said that Independence Hall, who is owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Twin Creeks Racing Stables and Kathleen and Robert Verratti, will likely make his next start in the Sam F. Davis or the Grade II, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford-Lincoln on Feb. 15 at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
Also nominated to the Sam F. Davis is recent Pasco Stakes winner Liam's Lucky Charm, bred and owned by Stonehedge and trained by Ralph Nicks; Scabbard, a multiple graded stakes-placed colt who finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, owned by Joseph W. Sutton and trained by Eddie Kenneally; stakes winner Mischievous Alex, owned by Cash is King, LLC and LC Racing, LLC and trained by John Servis; Ajaaweed, runner-up in the Grade II Remsen on Dec. 7 at Aqueduct, owned by Shadwell Stable and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin; and Premier Star, a promising if lightly raced colt owned by Sonata Stable and trained by Jorge Navarro.