Though Tampa Bay Downs has already played host to a pair of non-graded stakes races for this year’s three-year olds, Saturday’s G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes kicks off the Road to the Roses in earnest at Florida’s west coast track. The first step on Florida’s Triple Crown Trail was last weekend’s Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in which favored Hansen stumbled at the start, recovered and zipped out to take the lead, and then tired to finish second by five lengths to Algorithms. With that loss, many were ready to write the speedy gray colt off, but these are called prep races for a reason. A week has passed since the Holy Bull, and we have a brand new set of three-year olds ready to run their way into the Kentucky Derby starting gates.
When I initially took a look at the field, I have to admit that I was less than impressed. Of the eleven entrants, I recognized only a handful of them due in large part to previous starts at Gulfstream. To exacerbate the situation at TBD, many of the big name nominations such as Casual Trick, El Padrino, Discreet Dancer, Groovin’ Solo, Hansen, and Algorithms either raced last weekend or were being pointed toward other prep races. As I began to review past performances for the field, I became marginally more impressed, but it was not until I reviewed Reveron and Prospective’s PPs that I started to become excited. Reveron (Songandaprayer—Carolina Sunrise, by Awesome Again) has had a solidly progressive career thus far. He began with a pair of on-the-board losses, but he really took off in his third race, a 7-furlong affair at Calder. He followed up his maiden win with two more wins, one in the inaugural running of the Gulfstream Park Derby. He will enter the starting gate on Saturday on a three race win streak and a perfect record at the mile and a sixteenth Sam F. Davis distance. Prospective (Malibu Moon—Spirited Away, by Awesome Again) also has three wins from five starts. He is one for two at a mile and a sixteenth, is a Grade 3 winner, and has never lost at Tampa Bay Downs. These two colts drew the 10th and 11th post positions respectively, and both prefer to be near the lead.
Another colt that sparked my interest was State of Play (War Front—Valeta, by Procida). In three starts, he has crossed the wire first twice, doing so once while wiring the field. In his second start, he became a Grade 2 winner, but he was last seen finishing 12th of 14 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. In order for the Motion trainee to win on Saturday, he will need to both beat the Breeders’ Cup bounce and overcome his rail position. Under Alan Garcia, the War Front colt will likely go out to contest the pace.
Trainer Todd Pletcher is represented by lightly raced Ecabroni (Smoke Glacken—Miss Fury, by Unbridled’s Song). So far, the colt is untried beyond 7 furlongs, but he has yet to finish worse than second. Javier Castellano has the call, and the duo will likely go out to contest the early pace.
Also entered are Holy Highway, Battle Hardened, Moroccan Brew, Neck ‘n Neck, Fox Rules, Ravelo’s Boy, and Burning Time. Holy Highway, sent out by trainer Derek Ryan, will be seeking his first win on the dirt. The Holy Bull colt boasts a perfect record both at the distance and the track, but finished 3rd in his only start on the main track. Battle Hardened, a son of Giant’s Causeway, has yet to win a race despite coming close twice and is cross-entered in a maiden special weight race at Gulfstream Park. Moroccan Brew has not been tested beyond a mile and will be full of speed at the start. Neck n’ Neck will be near the back of the field early and is already proven at the mile and a sixteenth distance. Fox Rules is another turf runner and will also be seeking his first win on dirt. In five starts, his only win came when he was near the pace; in his other four starts, he raced near the back of the field, so if he breaks slowly, do not look for him to be a large factor at the end of the race. Ravelo’s Boy and Burning Time carry the most race day experience with 19 starts between them. Neither have been particularly successful, and both will likely join Neck ‘n Neck at the back of the field.
All in all, not a very strong field, especially when you look at the field assembled for the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park, also being run this weekend. That particular field includes Isn’t He Clever, Liaison, Sky Kingdom, Rousing Sermon, and Empire Way. By comparison, the Robert B. Lewis field makes the Sam F. Davis field look like an allowance race. But the beauty of that is that one colt will have the opportunity to step up and run a big race, putting them in the Kentucky Derby discussion. The only question is which one will it be? Will either State of Play, the innermost entrant, or Prospective, the outermost entrant, continue to run well and add to their graded stakes earnings? Or will Reveron continue his win streak and add a graded stakes victory to his résumé? Perhaps it will be one of the less accomplished colts in the field beginning to peak at the right time. There are many speed/stalk types in this race, and my picks all come from the front-running bunch. Given their past performances, I believe Reveron, Prospective, and State of Play have the best shot of winning, but Ecabroni, the Pletcher trainee, should not be discounted, nor should Neck ‘n Neck, who will have Jose Lezcano on board. This may not be the most exciting Derby prep race on tap, but we may just be in store for a break-out performance.