Head-to-head: Handicapping Tampa Bay's Sam F. Davis Stakes

Head-to-head: Handicapping Tampa Bay's Sam F. Davis Stakes
Photo: Tampa Bay Downs

As the first of two Tampa Bay Downs prep races for the 2021 Kentucky Derby, a full field of 12 3-year-olds will go 1 1/16 miles Saturday in the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes.

The Sam F. Davis, the first of two Kentucky Derby preps contested at Tampa Bay Downs, is a stepping stone to the $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on March 6. 

Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast and I weed out the contenders from the pretenders.




It would appear that Hidden Stash enjoyed the stretch out to two turns after failing to threaten in a pair of sprints. I like how jockey Rafael Bejarano had him up closer to the pace last out when the field was crawling early and the determination the colt showed in edging past the runner-up in the stretch. This will be Hidden Stash’s 2021 debut, so racing fitness could be lacking. However, with this pedigree, look for Hidden Stash to make some noise.

By Tiz the Law’s sire Constitution, out of a daughter of Smart Strike, Hidden Stash is bred to run all day. Cross a line through his first two starts; they were too short. I like this colt’s mind. When he graduated at Keeneland, he had to steady in a traffic jam but didn’t back out of the herd. He swung widest of all around the turn and won, going away. Next out, he had a wide trip and made up ground down the stretch in a sustained drive. The Vicki Oliver trainee recorded a second-to-last bullet breeze at Payson Park. Yes, the time was slow, but the training track is famed for its deep surface. Is Hidden Stash ready to be revealed as a stakes winner in his 3-year-old debut, or will he need a start?


A change in scenery and stablemates put Joe Man Joe in the winner’s circle, but he has already seen the hindquarters of a few in this field. He may appreciate the switch back to dirt after his last out turf experiment, but the class and speed figures are lacking.

After having his tail handed to him by Hidden Stash and Smiley Sobotka, Joe Man Joe switched to David Fisher’s barn and dropped in class, resulting in two decent efforts. In his first start for Fisher, Joe Man Joe showed no early turn of foot, lingering six lengths off the early speed. He gradually passed tired horses in the stretch and kicked it up a notch to nail Ricochet by a head on the wire. Joe Man Joe’s Brisnet Speed Ratings are lower than others in here, but he could pick of tired horses in the stretch and earn a minor award. 


A son of Curlin and Grade 1-winning turf mare Byrama, Known Agenda already has a win and a graded placing going nine panels. Though he earned a career-best speed figure in the Remsen (G2), in which he was third, racing luck was against him, as was the track condition. I look forward to watching this one on a dry track, though the layoff is a bit concerning.

Known Agenda was stuck on a sloppy Aqueduct rail in the Remsen Stakes. He made it to the outside and improved position but was no threat to the top two. The Todd Pletcher trainee has been breezing at Palm Meadows. Pletcher’s typical regimen is to keep workmates closely paired throughout. One will generally stick a head or neck in front nearing the wire. Known Agenda did that when paired with Likable, who placed fourth in the Swale (G3). Known Agenda doesn’t travel as comfortably over the dirt as his stablemates, but he’s willing. He’s out of Grade 1 winner Byrama, who was best over turf and all-weather. Pletcher and John Velazquez teamed up to win four editions of the Sam Davis Stakes; the last was in 2016 with Destin. 


Todd Pletcher’s decision to move this one from turf to dirt paid off with a win; however, it came in claiming company. 12-1 is not enough to entice me to take a chance. Pass.

Millean has high knee action and runs upright, so turf seemed to be the right place for him. The Pletcher trainee finished third in his 3-year-old debut on the lawn against maiden claimer. Millean graduated when making a lateral move to dirt, but he was all out to stave off two competitors. Blame's son recorded back-to-back bullet works, one in company with Demoiselle (G2) heroine Malathaat. Millean was pushed along to stay with his classier stablemate. I’m not convinced. 


I was not taken with Dale Romans’ Brody’s Cause runner last week (Sittin On Go in the Holy Bull (G3)), but Smiley Sobotka certainly appeals to me more. Like many in this field, the Sam F. Davis will be the colt’s 2021 debut. If his 2020 form carries over, Smiley Sobotka will be a must include on tickets.

Smiley Sobotka returns after a runner-up finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). The winner, Keepmeinmind, is working towards a return in the Southwest Stakes (G3). However, the other Kentucky Jockey Club finishers have disappointed in subsequent races. Smiley Sobotka worked in company a few weeks ago with Sittin On Go, who he beat in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Sittin On Go breezed easily, while Smiley Sobotka was pushed to stay with his mate. Sittin On Go was a recent well-beaten sixth in the Holy Bull Stakes. On the plus side, the Dale Romans trainee gets Tampa Bay fixture Daniel Centeno in the saddle. 


So far, Runway Magic has not shown much magic. The Runhappy colt has just one win from four starts and has yet to try a route race. I want to see more before I get too excited.

Runway Magic stretches out in his second start off the layoff. He was outrun in the early stages of the Limehouse Stakes as they set a blistering pace upfront. He gradually passed tired horses to gain an uninspiring third, 9 1/4-lengths behind Drain the Clock. The George Arnold trainee is by 2015 Champion Sprinter Runhappy out of an unraced half-sister to Debutante (G1) winner Mi Sueno. His second dam is Grade 1-winning sprinter/miler Madcap Escapade. The Chestnut colt has a miler conformation, so the stretch out should be within his scope.  


Trainer Cheryl Winebaugh’s gelding Boca Boy has held his own in state-bred and restricted company and was a solid second in open company on the turf. I do not blame the connections for taking a shot at the Derby trail, but taking a shot here after a four-month layoff seems inadvisable to me. I do not like him at his 5-1 morning line odds, but if those numbers start creeping up on race day, it could be worth taking a shot.

Boca Boy was last seen beating state-breds in the In Reality Stakes last September. A number of contestants that finished behind him returned to hit the board, including Chess’ Dream, who won the Kitten’s Joy Stakes over the lawn. Boca Boy will have his hooves full with other pace-setting types, but he’s never finished off the board.


Nova Rags had every opportunity in the Nashua (G3) last year but could do no better than a distant fourth. He bounced back smartly in his 2021 debut in the Pasco Stakes, racing wide throughout before running down the would-be winner in deep stretch. With Tampa Bay Downs, I always like a horse with experience, preferably a win, over the surface. I think Nova Rags deserves another shot at two turns.

Nova Rags gave a dominating 2 3/4-length performance in the Pasco Stakes in his 3-year-old debut. He logged a pre-race four furlongs in :49.20, likely in company with stablemate Candy Man Rocket. The last Sam Davis winner to exit the Pasco Stakes was General Quarters in 2009. By Union Rags out of a Smart Strike daughter, Nova Rags should enjoy two turns. Leading rider Sammy Camacho returns to the saddle.


Another from the Mott barn, Candy Man Rocket has the highest last-race speed figure, as well as the best speed figure in the field period. While he dazzled last out going six panels, this will be the Candy Ride colt’s first attempt at a route. Mott wouldn’t go for it if he did not think the colt had a chance, but I’m not sure I personally am ready for that leap of faith.

It’s rare to see a Bill Mott trainee graduate by 9 1/4 lengths. He did it in good time, too, getting six furlongs in 1:11.28. In the last three years, Mott’s last-out maiden winners have a 14-percent win and 42-percent in-the-money rate. 


I am intrigued by Ricochet. I was a huge fan of sire Tapiture, and I like both of this colt’s efforts here at Tampa Bay Downs. The speed figures are average, and the outside post may hurt his chances at getting to the lead. However, Jesus Castanon is sticking with him after that maiden breaking victory last out. Call me crazy, but this is one I would take a risk on.

When he faced Joe Man Joe, Ricochet went wide around the far turn and looked like a winner while everyone behind him was staggering – except for Joe Man Joe, who caught Ricochet on the wire. A jock change to Jesus Castanon resulted in a runaway victory, although Ricochet was again wide around the turn. The pair bested Last Investment by 8 1/4-lengths. Ricochet’s late-pace speed figure improved, but what did he beat?


Every Derby prep has that one “why” entrant, and Lucky Law is it for the Sam F. Davis. Both his pedigree and his form so far scream turf runner. Big pass.

I happen to like this one, Ashley. Patrick Biancone successfully transferred the turf form of Sole Volante to dirt and captured last year’s Sam Davis Stakes. Can he repeat? Let’s take a look at Lucky Law. He’s the first runner in two generations to race in the U.S. However, in two works videos, he handles the dirt just fine. On Jan. 27, Lucky Law breezed in company with the 9-year-old veteran Diamond Majesty, who hasn’t seen the winner’s circle in almost two years. Lucky Law about three lengths behind under a tight hold. Once let loose, he lengthened stride, caught his partner, and passed nicely. Diamond Majesty was kept under a slight hold and not asked to quicken; he was simply a target. Lucky Law completed five furlongs in 1:00.65. There’s the possibility that he won’t like dirt kicked in his face in the Sam Davis, but he handled the Palm Meadows dirt remarkably well. Offspring of No Nay Never win at 25 percent and are in the money 54 percent of the time. Lucky Law’s overall speed figures aren’t that great, but his late-pace figure is a respectable 96. Worth a long shot look.


Sent out by Stacy Hendry, Last Investment is still a maiden. In his second to last start, the colt got a great look at Ricochet’s rear end as that one pulled away to win at will. Completely outclassed here.

The “Why?” horse of the field, Last Investment is still a maiden. He lost ground in both tries beyond a mile. Not investing another word or thought.


Even if Tiz Tact Toe manages to draw into the field, there is nothing here that would change my mind about the rest of the field. Now in the care of Robert Hess, Jr. this son of Tourist retains his maiden and has raced exclusively on turf. No way, no how.

Tiz Tact Toe is another “Why?” horse, the turf version of Last Investment. He’s also-eligible and will draw in only if someone scratches.


Final Thoughts

Ashley: This is the type of race that makes bettors foam at the mouth. There is no clear cut favorite, making this nearly anyone’s race to win. I do at least have a few that are automatic tosses, but from there, the handicapping gets messy. My favorite angle for Tampa Bay Downs is prior success at the track. Sometimes it translates to Derby prep wins, sometimes it doesn’t, but Tampa Bay is so quirky that it is something I lend a lot of credence to.

Laurie: Over the last decade, six favorites finished first or second. Eight winners had a pacesetting or pressing style. I’m not enamored of the favorites this year, and for me, this is a dartboard race. There are five or six that I can see hitting the board. I’m not foaming at the mouth….yet. 




#8 Nova Rags (4-1)

#9 Candy Man Rocket (10-1)

#1 Hidden Stash (10-1)

#1 Hidden Stash (10-1)

#5 Smiley Sobotka (3-1)

#3 Known Agenda (6-1)

#10 Ricochet (15-1)

#11 Lucky Law (20-1)

Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 ThoroFan Board Member

 Member – NTWAB

Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

Twitter: @IMTBreds
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LinkedIn: Laurie Ross

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