Despite the scratch of third choice Howling Time, a full field of 12 line up in Saturday’s $250,000 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.
For a number of three-year-old thoroughbreds whose connections hold Kentucky Derby aspirations, 4:54 p.m. on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs is show-and-tell time.
A field of 12 sophomores, a few more promising than the others, is expected to line up about that time for the 42nd running of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a mile-and-a-sixteenth race awarding “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points to the first four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
The Sam F. Davis is one of four main-track stakes races on a good-looking, 11-race Festival Preview Day card beginning at 12:11 p.m. The program includes three other stakes races: the $150,000, mile-and-40-yard Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, a Road to the Kentucky Oaks points race to be contested as the eighth race; the $100,000, 6-furlong Pelican Stakes, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward, which is the seventh race; and the $50,000, 6-furlong Minaret Stakes, for fillies and mares 4-and-upward, scheduled as the sixth.
In addition to being a field of dreams for breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys and stable workers, the Sam F. Davis is the major prep race for the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, which is the showcase event of a $1-million-plus Festival Day card on March 12 featuring four graded stakes races.
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To get to Festival Day, the Sam F. Davis entrants need to show they’ve upped their games off their 2-year-old performances. There is no shortage of confident handlers.
Classic Causeway Favorite
Leading the way is Kentucky-bred colt Classic Causeway, who finished a solid second in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes to Smile Happy. Irad Ortiz, Jr., will take over the riding assignment from Joel Rosario. Classic Causeway is 1-for-3, including a third-place finish on Oct. 9 in the Grade I Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.
Trainer Brian Lynch said today he is sending Classic Causeway from his south Florida base to Tampa Bay Downs on Thursday, with the intention of jogging him Friday morning and schooling him in the paddock Friday afternoon.
“I’d like to see him get his first graded-stakes victory and keep picking up Derby points,” said Lynch, who trains Classic Causeway for Kentucky West Racing and Clarke M. Cooper. “His workouts have been solid, and everything about them suggests he should run well.
“I feel that if he runs his race, he will certainly fit with these horses,” Lynch said. “He has a high cruising speed and he has gotten much bigger and stronger as a 3-year-old. He has the tactical speed to not be very far from the engine room, and hopefully he will be first to the wire.”
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While Classic Causeway earned 6 points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” for his two graded-stakes efforts, Red Oak Stable’s unbeaten (3-for-3) colt Make It Big gained 10 points on Dec. 17 by winning the Springboard Mile Stakes at Remington Park in Oklahoma, his second stakes victory.
Trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr., said Jose Ortiz, Irad’s brother, will again ride Make It Big.
“I talked it over a few weeks ago with Rick Sacco, the Racing Manager for Red Oak, and he recommended the (Sam F. Davis) would be a good choice for his 3-year-old debut,” Joseph said. “We didn’t expect the race to come up this tough, but I’m excited to see how he stacks up.”
Joseph said Make It Big was forced to overcome adversity in the Springboard Mile. “He got in between horses and had to rate a bit, and then he got hooked late (by runner-up Osbourne) and had to out-battle him to the wire. It was a very professional performance,” Joseph said.
“This horse has a good mind, and he has found a way to win each time. He probably needs to improve to win Saturday, but he has improved in each race, so hopefully he will follow suit.”
Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse has entered three horses in the Sam F. Davis, including Grade III Grey Stakes winner God of Love, a supplementary entry after not being originals nominated. Casse’s other runners are Golden Glider and Volcanic.