A year ago, shortly after the Sam F. Davis
(Gr III) Stakes completed its 32nd running on the dirt and sand mix of Tampa Bay Downs,
a young jockey was settling into the starting gates at Santa Anita in the Robert
B. Lewis (Gr II).
Mario Guitierrez was short on experience that
day riding a horse that was long on odds, going off at more than a 40-1
underdog. Guitierrez and I’ll Have Another beat the odds on that Saturday and
kept going, scoring victories in the 2012 Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Whether or not this Saturday’s running of the
Sam F. Davis or Robert B. Lewis will produce another Guitierrez/I’ll Have
Another combination on either coast is anyone’s guess. One thing that is
certain, however, is that there are plenty of young, talented jockeys just
waiting for the same type of shot the up-and-coming Guitierrez got in 2012.
Tampa Bay Downs based Angel Serpa is one of
those jockeys. Serpa will reunite with Speak Logistics for Saturday’s running
of the Sam F. Davis for the first time since the combination finished seventh
in the 2012 Grey Goose Breeder’s Cup Juvenile (Gr I).
“This horse has a good chance,” Serpa said. “He
is a really nice horse to ride. He gives you everything, every race.”
The 25-year-old Serpa has been dominant at
his home track this season, riding 39 winners in the Tampa winter meet, which
started the first week in December. Included among those wins was a graded
stakes victory aboard Smartys Emperoress last Saturday.
Serpa and Speak Logistics will break from
the No. 4 gate this Saturday in an effort to run down a pair of Canadian-bred
favorites in Dynamic Sky and My Name is Michael. Luis Contreras has
the mount on the Mark Casse-trained Dynamic Sky, who already
has a pair of stakes wins as a 2-year-old.
The last time Speak Logistics saw the track
in competition he finished a half-length behind Dynamic Sky at the 2012
Breeder’s Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. Serpa is hoping his experience at the
Breeder’s Cup will help him in the Davis.
“[The Breeder’s Cup] was amazing,” Serpa
said. “I had never been in California. I couldn’t move, it was exciting to see
that kind of people on site, it was a beautiful moment.”
Serpa said he soaked up as much knowledge
about the business as he could, learning from the likes of fellow Puerto Rican
and Hall-of-Famer Johnny Velazquez. Like Velazquez, Serpa has also earned the
respect of his peers.
“[Serpa] is riding good horses and he also
rides clean,” Said fellow Tampa-based jockey Ryan Curatolo.
Agent Charlie Benitez first spotted Serpa
six years ago in Puerto Rico, where he was an exercise rider. Benitez helped
bring Serpa to the United States where he started as an apprentice jockey at
Monmouth Park and was a finalist for the 2010 Outstanding Apprentice Eclipse
Award. Two years later Serpa was in Tampa where he finished third among all
jockeys with 72 wins, including a victory in the Florida Turf Classic (Gr III)
aboard 28-1 shot Roman Tiger.
Saturday’s race will likely be the last time
Serpa rides in the Sam F. Davis as a regular at Tampa Downs.
“If he comes back here [next season], he
won’t be the only person who is disappointed,” said Mike Henry, Publicity
Assistant at Tampa Downs. “People here watch him every day they know he is
ready for the next step.”
That next step is likely to come at
Gulfstream where Serpa could have a chance to earn more mounts for trainer
Eddie Plesa, Jr., who is hoping Serpa and Speak Logistics can deliver a second-straight
win for him on the Kentucky Derby Trail after Itsmyluckyday pulled off a
surprising upset in the Holy Bull last week. Speak Logistics and Itsmyluckyday
have worked together in South Florida and Plesa has shown his confidence in
Serpa, who has ridden Speak Logistics to victories in two of his four starts.
The 1 1/16th mile Sam F. Davis
Stakes will feature a full field of 10 horses that includes Casse’s Northern
Lion, as well as Falling Sky who comes into the race with three-straight wins,
but is making his first start in a race that features two turns. Nick Zito’s
Midnight Poppa also makes the trip to Tampa Downs and will break from the No.
The Davis is one of 36
races that awards points toward a spot in the Kentucky Derby, with 10 points
going to the winner of the race, four points going to the second-place
finisher, two to the third-place finisher and one to the horse that crosses the
line fourth. The race is part of a card that features three stakes races on the
day. The Florida Oaks (Gr III) for 3-year-old fillies and Endeavor Stakes (Gr
III) for older fillies and mares will both take place on the turf course. Both
races on the turf will run at a 1 1/16th miles.
Written by Shawn LaFata