Guest analysis by Brian Nadeau: The Sam F. Davis Stakes – Tampa Bay Downs – Grade III, $225,000 – 1 1/16 miles
Question: What do Bluegrass Cat and Any Given Saturday have in common?
Answer: The obvious is that they were both Grade I-winning 3-year-olds trained by Todd Pletcher who were major players on the Kentucky Derby trail. The not so obvious is that they both won Tampa Bay Downs’ Sam Davis Stakes early in their sophomore season. Who knew?
And that was when the Davis was an ungraded prep for the Tampa Bay Derby. Granted Grade III status this season, the Davis becomes that much more important. The Kentucky Derby starting gate is determined by graded stakes earnings, making the Davis’ $135,000 pot for the winner that much more significant.
Though Pletcher doesn’t have a runner in this year’s renewal, 11 3-year-olds are signed on. Let’s take a look at the major contenders:
General Quarters– This guy isn’t getting much publicity, but he did run a bang-up second in the local prep for the Davis, the Pasco Stakes on January 17. That race was at 7 furlongs and now he’ll try two turns on the main for the first time, though he is bred for it. He’s done little wrong in his two starts in the Mark Miller barn and he’s got the home field advantage if the shippers should falter. Not out of this by any means.
Atomic Rain– Ran too-good-to-lose in an entry-level allowance at Gulfstream Park on January 8, when he dueled on the lead only to succumb late to fellow Davis rival Free Country. He did all the dirty work that day and still held well in the lane, so you could make the case he ran every bit as good as the winner. Fine (though distant) second to Old Fashioned in the Remsen two-back and now the blinkers go on, so look for this guy to be right on the pace. The one to catch turning for home.
Cliffy’s Future– Ran a big one over the inner dirt at Aqueduct in his last start, when trained by Bruce Levine, and it looks like Silverton Hill (of Dominican and Sedgefield fame) reached in and bought him privately. Sent to their main trainer Darrin Miller, he gets the acid test today, but if he repeats his last he’ll make his presence felt.
Free Country– Sure, he sat the garden trip when running down Atomic Rain by a neck at Gulfstream, but going from the maiden ranks to defeating winners in your next start is no small shakes, folks. And did I mention he went from 6 furlongs in that maiden to 9 furlongs at Gulfstream? That’s pretty serious stuff right there for a colt making his second lifetime start. McPeek is loaded this year and the feeling here is this guy is at the top of the list. He won’t be under the radar after Saturday.
A.P. Cardinal– Anything the McLaughlin barn sends out warrants respect, and this colt ran a fine second to a former McPeek trainee (Danger To Society) at Gulfstream on January 8. That was his first start in his new barn and you can easily make a case he’ll be a bit sharper this time around. First foal from a mare (Smok’n Frolic) who knew how to win a big race or two, so this colt could be a runner. McLaughlin fans get a rare chance to get their guy at a price.
Musket Man– How deep is this race? Well, you’re going to get the Pasco winner, who is undefeated in three career starts, at about 8-1. Son of sprinter Yonaguska stepped up his game last time when he added Lasix. Though he’s viewed as the local hope, he did break his maiden first-out last fall at Belmont, so they probably had some high hopes for him all along. If he can negotiate the extra turn, he’ll be in a pretty salty spot turning for home. You could do worse than seeing if this neat colt can make it 4-for-4.
Top Seed– Mike Trombetta has himself a nice little arsenal of unproven 3-year-olds this winter, and you’re going to start seeing them pop up in South Florida over the next few months. This colt is a perfect 3-for-3 and even won a minor stakes over the track in December. Has yet to race beyond 6 furlongs and he’ll get tested for class today, but he can threaten if he continues to improve.