Things heat up this weekend in Florida as the path to the Tampa Bay Derby begins in earnest with the Sam Davis Stakes. Rule makes his much anticipated 3yo debut against local hope Uptowncharlybrown. In California–weather permitting–they’ll give the Robert Lewis another go as well. Let’s take a look.
Tampa Bay Downs: The Grade III, $225,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
1. Rule: WinStar’s colt looms heavy favorite as he makes his 3yo debut after an impressive freshman campaign that culminated with a hard-fought score in the GIII Delta Jackpot. With his early speed and rail draw, he should be involved from the opening bell, but there are a few others who will keep him company early. There’s quality here, no doubt, but you need to remember a few things before jumping aboard at 4-5: first, he’s never run fast aside from his two races at Delta, a track that horses usually love or hate; and second, this is just a starting off point for what Pletcher hopes will be a campaign that leads to Churchill Downs on the First Saturday in May. So yeah, he’s a deserving favorite, but one you’re allowed to try and beat today.
2. Schoolyard Dreams: Adds blinkers after a less than inspiring win in an optional claimer here last month, but that was his first start versus winners and it gives him an important win over the track, which is never a bad thing over the quirky Tampa oval. Ryan has been raving about this colt and as the trainer of Musket Man, he knows a good 3yo when he sees one. He should be lapped right off of Rule throughout, but thinking he blinks when the real running begins; minor award might be his ceiling.
3. Tristen’s Mambo: Looked good running away from maidens here last month but the water gets much, much deeper today. That was his first two-turn start on the main track and they did pay 220k for him, but thinking he needs some more seasoning before he threatens this kind; outsider.
4. Middle Of The Nite: West Point runner chased the supremely talented Eskendereya home in a good GP entry level allowance last month and now makes his graded stakes debut in an effort to jump on the Derby Trail. He’s also going to try two turns for the first time and that’s something that should really suit his long-distance pedigree. Owns the right running style to sit a good trip and may benefit from Rule potentially getting softened up early; choice to pull the minor upset.
5. Silver Craft: Disappointed behind rival Uptowncharlybrown in the Pasco, so you begin to wonder if the fast local allowance score two-back was the exception rather than the rule. Stretches out in distance today and others figure to appreciate the added ground a bit more than this colt; needs a form reversal to factor.
6. Uptowncharlybrown: Undefeated and untested in two career starts, both over the Tampa oval. He actually had to work pretty hard to get to the leaders in the Pasco but once he did, he leveled out nicely and drew clear. He meets two turns and tougher competition so it’s anyone’s guess as to how he’ll handle it. Figures to enjoy a perfect stalking trip behind a very reasonable pace, but the gut tells me he’s not as good as he appears on paper; willing to try and get him out of the exacta.
7. African Moon: Chased Schoolyard Dreams home earlier in the meet before relenting late and he got no help from the draw in here. Done little wrong in his two local starts, which were both at two turns, but if he can’t get by ‘Schoolyard in the lane, it’s hard to see him getting by Rule and some other toughies; longshot.
4. Middle Of The Nite
Santa Anita: The Grade II, $150,000 Robert Lewis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
1. Dave In Dixie: Looked like a real comer when he won his debut for fun last summer at Del Mar and then hardly disgraced himself when a solid sixth in the GI Norfolk, which marked his first start vs. winners and first start at two turns. He’s been working great guns for his 3yo debut, but thinking today is simply a nice starting off point for one of the West Coast’s top Derby prospects; tabbing him for a minor award and expecting some big things once the furlongs begin to add up later this spring.
2. Tiz Chrome: Speaking of exciting prospects, this colt has looked great in winning both career starts and now he takes the next step and tries the two-turn game for the first time. Can he do it? Well, dad was one of the finest long distance horses to come along in the past quarter century and if this colt relaxes like pops did and throws those :12 eighths at you, then look out. There’s some other speed signed on so he’s going to be under the gun from the inside the entire way. With some potential question marks to go with the anticipated short price, it’s best to watch this one and make an assessment on the future when it’s all said and done.
3. American Lion: It might be a good time to try and buy a little stock in WinStar, as they are absolutely loaded with 3yo’s right now. This colt is at the forefront of their West Coast contingent, and with good reason, as he did little wrong in three sophomore starts, which culminated in a stakes score in the Hollywood Prevue. The neat thing is that those starts were all at one-turn and here’s another Tiznow colt who you know is just begging to stretch his legs. Well, he gets the chance today and his stalk and pounce style should allow him to be right off the leaders and get him the jump on the closers like ‘Dave; not expecting to get rich, but he gets the call for the win nonetheless.
4. Caracortado: While some of these sprinters need to answer the two-turn question, this gelding did just that in winning a Cal-bred stakes over the course in his last. He didn’t break the stopwatch that day, but when you go from 6f’s to 8.5f’s and get the job done, it’s worth noting to be sure. The water gets deeper once again but he’s got a few things in his favor, price being one of them; a logical alternative if you’re looking to beat the short-priced favorites.
5. Tango Tango: Northern California invader seems outclassed in this difficult assignment, even with Hollendorfer calling the shots. He’s eligible to be a nuisance near the lead early, but it’s tough to imagine he’s going to be around in the late stages; longshot.
3. American Lion
2. Tiz Chrome
1. Dave In Dixie
Don’t forget that you can check out Brian’s handicapping for NYRA races at horseplayernow.com. He’ll be participating in “Countdown to the Crown” live chats every Friday at 2 pm, accessible from the main page of the site, chatting for an hour about anything and everything for three year olds.