Monday, February 4, 2019
OLDSMAR - After winning the 2006 Sam F. Davis Stakes and finishing second in the (then)-Gr. III Tampa Bay Derby, Bluegrass Cat rallied for a second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, behind the ill-fated Barbaro.
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That’s the closest a Sam F. Davis entrant has come to winning the Run for the Roses, but the law of averages suggests that drought could end in the near future (wishful thinking, admittedly, by Tampa Bay Downs officials, and completely discarding the Bob Baffert factor). Since 2004, the Sam F. Davis – which achieved Gr. III status in 2009 – has produced at least one Kentucky Derby starter in all but two years.
In the last three years, the $250,000, mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis has yielded a Gr. II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and Belmont Stakes winner in Tapwrit; a Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner, Belmont runner-up and multiple-Gr. II winner in Destin; a Gr. I winner on both dirt and turf in Catholic Boy; and McCraken, who set a then-track record of 1:42.45 in the 2017 Sam F. Davis and just missed that summer in the Gr. I betfair.com Haskell Invitational.
And Bluegrass Cat didn’t fare too badly after the Kentucky Derby, finishing second in the Belmont and Travers and winning the Haskell Invitational.
So when a group of 3-year-old colts enters the starting gate on Saturday for this year’s Sam F. Davis, it’s important to remember this is an early sophomore prep and that several (most, in fact, if their trainers have their way) are still maturing physically and mentally toward peak career performances.
Inaugurated in 1981, the same year as the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, the Sam F. Davis has been won by a veritable “who’s-who” of trainers: Todd Pletcher (six times), Nick Zito, John Terranova II, Kiaran McLaughlin, Ian Wilkes and Mark Casse. Their fondness for the track’s deep, sand-based surface that promotes fitness and endurance is further proof of the race’s importance, as is its status as a “Road to the Kentucky Derby Prep Season” points race.
The 145th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs is May 4.
The Sam F. Davis is the centerpiece of Festival Preview Day 39 Presented by Lambholm South, with four stakes worth $750,000 in purse money, three of the graded-stakes variety. Among those confirmed as likely to compete are Gr. I winner Knicks Go, from the barn of Ben Colebrook, who breezed 4 furlongs in 48 seconds flat. Also confirmed as likely participants are trainer Arnaud Delacour’s Five Star General, a stakes-winner at Aqueduct last fall, who breezed 5 furlongs here in 1:01 1/5; and Pletcher’s So Alive, a conditional allowance winner here on Jan. 6 and a son of Pletcher’s 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, who finished third in that year’s Tampa Bay Derby.
Also confirmed as likely Sam F. Davis starters are H. Graham Motion’s Still Dreaming; Kentucky Wildcat, trained by Thomas Albertrani; Counter Offer, trained by Wilkes; and Cave Run, trained by Eoin Harty. Kathleen O’Connell’s stakes-winner Well Defined, Pletcher’s Country House and Bill Mott’s Tacitus are currently listed as possible Sam F. Davis starters.
A pair of Gr. III turf stakes are on tap on Festival Preview Day 39 Presented by Lambholm South – the $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour for fillies and mares 4-years-old and upward, and the $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward. Both are at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth.