OLDSMAR, FL. â€“ Promise and potential will take a back seat to performance late Saturday afternoon when 12 3-year-olds line up to face the starter in the 35th edition of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the main event on Tampa Bay Downsâ€™ Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South program.
At least one horse from the Sam F. Davis has competed in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands in 10 of the last 11 years. And although Catalina Red is the only stakes winner among the entrants, itâ€™s too early to dismiss any as unworthy of the attempt.
â€œThe Kentucky Derby winner is usually not precocious as a 2-year-old,â€ said Eoin Harty, the trainer of a pair of Sam F. Davis entrants: the Casner Racing, LP-owned colt My Johnny Be Good and Godolphin Racing, LLCâ€™s gelding Crittenden.
â€œThe good ones usually start developing around this time of year and really get good on (Kentucky) Derby Day,â€ Harty said. â€œBasically, just about everybody (in the Sam F. Davis field) is in the same boat, but itâ€™s going to be a tough race. Itâ€™s never easy when youâ€™re running for that kind of money. But you donâ€™t necessarily want your horse peaking on Jan. 31. There is a lot of time between now and the first Saturday in May.â€
The Sam F. Davis Stakes, which is the 11th race on a 12-race card that begins at 12:20 p.m., will be contested at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main dirt track.
The Sam F. Davis Stakes is a significant prep race for the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 7. The Tampa Bay Derby is part of Churchill Downsâ€™ Road to the Kentucky Derby points system.
Catalina Red, who is owned by Anthony A. Lenci and trained by Chad Stewart, will break from the No. 1 post and is the probable favorite based on his excellence in two Oldsmar starts.
The Florida-bred son of Munnings-Lovely Dream, by Freud, set a stakes record of 1:09.32 for six furlongs in winning the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes here on Dec. 6 and bettered that achievement three weeks later with a seven-furlong track record of 1:21.40 in winning the $100,000 Pasco Stakes.
Saturdayâ€™s powerhouse program also includes the 16th running of the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf, and the 35th renewal of the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40-yards on the dirt.
Todd Pletcher, who topped all North American trainers in earnings, stakes wins and graded stakes victories in 2014 and has won seven Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Trainer, will attempt to win the Sam F. Davis for the sixth time in the last 10 years with a pair of entrants: Eclipse Thoroughbred Partnersâ€™ G Five and WinStar Farm, LLCâ€™s Royal Son.
Here is the full Sam F. Davis Stakes field in post position order, with each horseâ€™s trainer and jockey: 1. Catalina Red, Chad Stewart, Daniel Centeno; 2. Royal Son, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez; 3. Amiâ€™s Flatter, Josie Carroll, Luis Contreras; 4. Crittenden, Eoin Harty, Fernando De La Cruz; 5. Divining Rod, Arnaud Delacour, Luis Garcia; 6. Bandages, Chad Stewart, Ronnie Allen, Jr.; 7. Brother Bobo, Jason Servis, Gabriel Saez; 8. G Five, Todd Pletcher, Rajiv Maragh; 9. My Johnny Be Good, Eoin Harty, Antonio Gallardo; 10. Coomer, Michael Maker, Julien Leparoux; 11. Ocean Knight, Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz, Jr.; 12. Bears Personality, Reade Baker, Edgar Prado.
The 2012 winner of the Endeavour Stakes, Zagora, was trained by Brown and later added the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes here to her ledger, going on to win the Breedersâ€™ Cup Filly and Mare Turf and an Eclipse as Outstanding Turf Female.
The Suncoast has drawn an overflow field of 11 sophomore fillies. Top contenders include Metro Thoroughbreds LLCâ€™s Irish Jasper, the Gasparilla Stakes winner here from the barn of Derek Ryan, and Holywell, owned by Tracy Pinchin and trained by Jose Pinchin.