Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Ontario-bred stakes winners Asserting Bear and Matador; Harpoon, from the barn of Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher; and the promising Kentucky-bred Cousin Stephen, trained by Chad Brown, headline a wide-open field of eight 3-year-olds for Saturday’s Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the first leg of the Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus.
The 34th edition of the mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis on the main dirt track is the centerpiece of a 12-race Festival Preview Day card offering $500,000 in stakes purses, including the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes for older horses at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40-yards on the dirt.
Racing begins at 12:30 p.m.; the Suncoast is carded as the eighth race, followed by the Sam F. Davis and the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes.
The owner(s) of the Davis winner will be eligible for a $1-million bonus, payable if their horse goes on to win the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 8 and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 3.
Additionally, one fan who fills out an entry blank and deposits it in a box corresponding to the winner of the Davis will become eligible to win $100,000 through the Lambholm South Fan Bonus. The name of the fan will be drawn by the winning jockey from those who selected his mount immediately after the race. Boxes with the saddlecloth colors, numbers and names of each Davis entrant will be set up at both the main clubhouse and grandstand entrances; if the horse wins both Derbies, the fan collects.
Saturday’s festivities begin at 10 a.m. when Eclipse Award-winning journalist Marty McGee of the Daily Racing Form joins track announcer Richard Grunder for the Morning Glory Club show on the first floor of the grandstand.
Asserting Bear, who is owned by Bear Stables, Ltd., and trained by Reade Baker, is a finalist for a Sovereign Award as Canada’s Outstanding Two-Year-Old Male. The colt’s two victories include a stirring triumph in the $250,000 Coronation Futurity at a mile-and-an-eighth on Woodbine’s all-weather track on Nov. 17. Asserting Bear will break from the No. 6 post and be ridden by Joe Rocco, Jr.
Matador, owned by John C. Oxley and trained by Mark Casse – both 2012 Sovereign Award winners in their respective categories and again finalists – won the $250,000 Cup and Saucer Stakes at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf at Woodbine on Oct. 20 before finishing off the board in the Coronation Futurity after encountering interference at the top of the stretch. Matador is by Malibu Moon, also the sire of Oxley and Casse’s 2012 Davis runner-up and Tampa Bay Derby winner Prospective. He has the No. 8 post and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.
Harpoon, who is owned by the Let’s Go Stable of Kevin Scatuorchio and Bryan Sullivan, broke his maiden going a mile at Gulfstream on Dec. 26 after finishing second in his first three races. Pletcher and Let’s Go Stable teamed to win last year’s Tampa Bay Derby with Verrazano. Harpoon has the inside No. 1 post and will be ridden by Luis Saez.
Cousin Stephen, who is owned by Klaravich Stables, Inc., and W.H. Lawrence, broke his maiden by seven-and-a-half lengths in a $75,000, mile-and-an-eighth special weight at Aqueduct in November before tiring in his last start Jan. 3 at Gulfstream against a quality allowance/optional claiming field. Daniel Centeno will ride Cousin Stephen, who has the No. 5 post.
The other Davis entrants include No. 2 Noble Cornerstone, owned by My Meadowview Farm and trained by Wesley Ward, Kent Desormeaux aboard; No. 3 Imaginethatmom, owned by Shadybrook Farm, Inc., and trained by Michael Yates, Abdiel Jaen in the irons; No. 4 Vinceremos, owned by WinStar Farm, LLC and Twin Creeks Racing Stables, LLC and trained by Pletcher, Edgar Prado riding; and No. 7 School On a Hill, owned by James Covello, Millennium Farms and West Point Thoroughbreds and trained by Wayne Catalano, Ronnie Allen, Jr., aboard.
School On a Hill was supplemented to the race at a cost of $3,000.