When I said that there was going to be a break-out performance in today’s Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, I was not lying, though I never expected this. Despite being sent off as the bettors’ second choice in the field of eleven, I was stunned when Battle Hardened stormed past Reveron and State of Play in the stretch drive to win today’s race. Pedigree fanatics will point to his sire and say something along the lines of, “Well, he’s a Giant’s Causeway colt. You should have seen that coming.” That is all well and good, but here was my hang-up with the chestnut colt: until today, he had NEVER won a race. Yes, folks, that’s right. When he entered the starting gate, he was still a maiden. Though it has certainly happened in the past, maidens just do not jump up from fields of non-winners and win a stakes race, especially when they have never won a race themselves. So while many of you were probably cheering his victory or disappointedly wondering what happened to your favorite, I was sitting in front of my laptop with the live-streaming video pulled up spluttering and shaking my head, completely dumbfounded by what I had just seen. Those that missed it are probably wondering what exactly I did see by this point, so I will get to it without further ado.
The whole field broke well, but it was State of Play from the rail position, in his dirt debut, who broke quickest and went to the lead. Fox Rules and Reveron were right there with the leader, and Battle Hardened took up a good position in fourth. Burning Time was the early trailer. State of Play led the way through fractions of 23.79 for the opening quarter and 47.81 for the half, and, as the field turned for home, there was a split second where it looked like the colt might take the field to the wire. A second later, however, it became obvious that Reveron was in full stride and determinedly looking to make it four in a row. Battle Hardened was having none of that, however, and drove past the leaders four wide to snatch the victory away from Reveron, who ended up being nosed out of the place by Prospective. Ravelo’s Boy, Neck ‘n Neck, Fox Rules, State of Play, Burning Time, Moroccan Brew, and Holy Highway finished fourth through tenth respectively. Ecabroni, the favorite, was taken up at the break and was never a factor while finishing last.
Battle Hardened had also been entered in a maiden special weight race at Gulfstream Park today, and when I saw that he had been scratched from that race, I was shocked. I will admit that I thought trainer Eddie Kenneally had made the wrong call, but his charge’s win in the Sam F. Davis just proves why he is a trainer and I am not. Much like the Saints’ onside kick against the Indianapolis Colts to open up the second half of Super Bowl XLIV, the rest of the field was taken by surprise by Kenneally’s decision. And, just like for the Saints, the unorthodox call paid off.
Today’s win earned Battle Hardened $120,000 in graded stakes money, a figure that puts him in the top 20 for graded earnings as of three days ago. However, Alpha also earned $120,000 today due to his win in the G3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, enough to bump him from #37 into the top 20. Additionally, Liaison and Sky Kingdom start in today’s G2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, and a win by either of them would boost them up the rankings list, too. Rousing Sermon also starts in the Robert B. Lewis, but a win by him would simply move him up within the Top 20. It is only February 4, and there is still a lot of racing to be done between now and the first Saturday in May, so these figures are far from set in stone. Due to today’s victory, it is entirely possible that we will see Battle Hardened in either the Tampa Bay Derby or the Florida Derby. After today’s break-out performance, anything is possible for the Giant’s Causeway colt.