Tampa Bay Downs: The Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points 10-4-2-1)
by Brian Nadeau
#1 Navy Armed Guard (15-1): The lone maiden has actually run about as fast as anyone but the chalk in his last two on the dirt, which includes a neck loss when second here last month, so he’s not impossible, at least on paper. That being said, he’s spotting a ton to the winners here, and his lack of early speed won’t help him, either, as there’s not a ton of it signed on. Son of Midshipman may prove to be a bargain for Scott when it’s all said and done, but breaking through today seems like a mighty big ask; minor award appears his ceiling.
#2 Flameaway (8-1): The speed walked on the lead in the grassy Kitten’s Joy at Gulfstream Park last month and forgot to stop in a solid, if unspectacular, effort and he returns to the dirt today, a surface that he’s 2-for-3 over, though both wins have come over very wet tracks. Son of Scat Daddy deserves to be here, as this is the perfect spot to see where he racks up, and it’s not like Casse to duck a fight, either, but the only time he ran on a fast main track, he was beaten almost 12 lengths by today’s rival Hollywood Star in the GIII Iroquois at Churchill Downs in September. So while, if he breaks running and they let him clear off, there’s a chance he gets brave and forgets to stop, it’s also not very likely; pace player, not sure how much more.
#3 Vino Rosso (3-1): Undefeated son of Curlin starts for Pletcher, who astutely sent him here in December to easily annex an optional-claimer, albeit in plowhorse time, so he will need to improve to be a threat today. Take note, though, that that was his first start against winners and at two turns, and it seems we see his kind here every year, in that there have been several open-length winners with slow figures. The debut win at Aqueduct showed that he can run fast, and we all know how good this barn is with its 3-year-olds, and if the chalk was a one-hit wonder and/or can’t take to what can be a tricky local surface, this figures to be the one to take advantage; looms plenty scary.
#4 Septimius Severus (15-1): Gulfstream invader was a distant second to a good one in an optional-claimer last time in what was his first start for Weaver, and now he stretches out to two turns for the first time, so you could expect him to show a lot of speed, especially with an aggressive José Ortiz taking the mount. Son of Roman Ruler is certainly bred for this, and that debut win at Aqu for Baker was solid, so it’s not like he’s completely out of his element today, though this is also a solid step up in class. Price players could do worse than getting arguably the best jockey in the country at double-digit odds, but he’s likely not good enough to get the 5+ lengths this colt will need to threaten, either; not seeing it.
#5 Hollywood Star (5-2): The perceived main danger built his bankroll and résumé by running slow in a pair of modest graded stakes as a 2yo and got exposed when he was beaten a furlong while sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when last seen at Santa Anita in November, so he best have improved open lengths if he wants to have a say today. Romans scratched this son of Malibu Moon out of last week’s GII Holy Bull at GP to run here, and that was a wise move, as this lesser heat is much more his speed. Which is also a nice segue to his running style, as his lack of early foot is going to leave him behind the eight-ball today, especially since there’s not a ton of projected pace signed on; trying to get out of the exacta.
#6 Catholic Boy (8-5): Highly respected turf runner tried the dirt in Aqueduct’s GII Remsen when last seen in November and not only took to it but freaked en route to a 4 3/4-length win that put him on everyone’s radar this winter and makes him clearly the horse to beat today. Son of More Than Ready simply destroyed a field that included the favored runner-up Avery Island, who returned last week to win Aqueduct’s GIII Withers, so it’s not like he beat up on a bunch of tomato cans, either. The price will be short, and you know this is just a jumping-off spot to what Thomas and company hope will be a campaign that leads them to Louisville, and not everyone loves this deep and sandy track (though getting a few drills over the surface was a very heady move), but, with all that being said, this is a serious animal in a race that lacks any others, as of right now; imposing.
#7 Vouch (8-1): Lightly-raced runner was left in the chalk’s wake in the Remsen, when he was a distant third, though that was his first start against winners after a sharp Laurel debut win, so it’s not like he ran all that poorly, either. Delacour is doing his usual bang-up job in these parts and there are plenty of encouraging drills for this return, not to mention a ton of tactical speed here, which will allow this son of Yes It’s True to get first run on ‘Boy off the far turn, too. Of course, that’s exactly what happened in South Ozone Park last time, and we all know how that worked out, which means turning the tables seems very iffy; logical for a piece.
#6 Catholic Boy
#3 Vino Rosso
#5 Hollywood Star