The Sam F. Davis (Grade III)

2/10/2017 Tampa Bay Downs-Race 10

The Sam F. Davis-$250,000

1 & 1/16th Miles on Dirt for Three-Year-Olds

Post Time: 1:45 P.M. PST

Analysis by Michael Patricks

The first weekend of February three-year-old prep races are in the books and a couple interesting results took place from those events.  The topmost surprise came from the victory of Irish War Cry in the Grade II Holy Bull from Gulfstream Park while garnering considerably fewer headlines was the continued onslaught from El Areeb in the Grade III Withers from Aqueduct, where he decimated a field of unheralded lesser lights in the process.  In doing an autopsy on this installment of The Withers, it’s more than fair to view the competitors that competed in this event with suspicious eyes and then some.  True Timber, who stumbled at the start before setting the pace, was able to hold the second spot at healthy odds over the overhyped J Boys Echo, who finished third.  Trust that the remaining balance of competition behind El Areeb has their seats permanently ensconced at the Also-Ran Café when it comes to any sort of Triple Crown talk.

The Holy Bull was a much more interesting race to evaluate in retrospect.  Derby points and national respect undoubtedly went out to Irish War Cry for his sharp and workmanlike effort that he brought with him on the front end last Saturday.  He was able to hum along under ideal fractions from the steering of Joel Rosario and as an undefeated and improving colt from the Graham Motion barn he rates a long look going forward.  Gunnevera ran a solid second in this race chasing the winner home in the process.  He ran like a horse that needed a race and he did steady mildly entering the top of the lane before rallying around a beleaguered Classic Empire for the second spot.  Give him a little extra push next time out if there is ample pace in front of him that will benefit his strong stretch kick.  It wasn’t Classic Empire’s day at odds-on in the Holy Bull.  It’s well documented he did not ship well or enjoy his business one bit.  Chalk it up to a bad day at the office and give him an opportunity next time out to make amends for sure, but if you took 5/1 in Kentucky Derby Future Pool 2 you’re probably shaking your head at this point.  It will be interesting to see where he closes in the betting in the next future pool which will be offered at the tail end of February.

The Sam F. Davis will be the center of attention this weekend and as a Grade III, it’s attracted a very competitive field of nine runners, featuring the undefeated McCraken for trainer Ian Wilkes. McCraken has launched himself into the national limelight due to three impressive victories over the Churchill Downs surface as a two-year-old.  Will McCraken continue to stamp himself as one of the ones for the first Saturday in May?  Let’s sort it out.

1-State of Honor 8/1 ML- Canadian-bred took five starts to graduate before showing out nicely against winners in a two-year-old restricted stakes race at Woodbine, finishing second to his stable mate and neighbor in Saturday’s starting gate.  State of Honor ran valiantly in the Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park last time, raising some eyebrows at 13/1 before getting outnodded for top honors.  Trainer Mark Casse adds blinkers in the Sam F. Davis as perhaps rider Julien Leparoux felt he got to looking around a bit in the stretch on that day.  Two other horses add blinkers in the Sam F. Davis and there is some quality speed signed on to contest this Grade III.  Sonic Mule came back to run a non-threatening third in the Swale and Talk Logistics was a belated fourth in the Holy Bull last week.  With the inside draw you can expect Leparoux to send him towards the front but he is likely to feel the pressure to his outside throughout and it’s difficult to craft a scenario in my mind that doesn’t ultimately involve him surrendering late; leaving him out as a victim of circumstance.

2-King and His Court 8/1 ML- Beat his buddy State of Honor in the Coronation Futurity at Woodbine, wearing him down as the 5/2 betting favourite.  ‘King sports a quite impressive ledger from his nine lifetime starts, especially given the fact he was a meager $2,200 purchase at auction.  It’s reasonable to expect him to be brushed aside in terms of preferred wagering dollars but there is a good amount of speed in this race and it’s foreseeable that he could be running on to land a share.  No doubt he will have to take a tremendous step forward to reach the top placings but he is not hopeless on Saturday.  His morning line seems a bit short and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him go off as an overlay, but those playing deep vertical tickets should consider using this one on the lower rungs of trifecta and superfecta wagers; confirming he’s your sleeper who can spice up the gimmicks.

3-Fact Finding 9/2 ML- Scratched out of the Holy Bull last Saturday to go in this one.  As mentioned last week, this son of The Factor is razor sharp, tactful, improving and undefeated off the shelf.  He dominated the Smooth Air at Gulfstream in front running fashion and before that was an eye-opening victor of an allowance race at Keeneland.  His debut victory at Saratoga over a next out winner helps endorse him as a bonafide contender in terms of true quality.  Todd Pletcher and Johnny Velazquez have done this dance many times together and he draws perfectly.  If he steps forward off the two month break he will prove to be a handful to run down in the lane.  Believe this will be Fact Finding’s break out performance and declaration to the racing world that he’s to be reckoned with this spring.  McCraken will have to come and get him and I’ll take my chances that at today’s distance, and with McCraken having to fire big off the layoff, Fact Finding will find his way to the winners’ circle as the likely second choice in the wagering; he rates as my selection.

4-Chance of Luck 15/1 ML- $6,500 purchase at auction has had a useful beginning to his career, winning his debut for a $40,000 maiden claiming tag and then stepping up into two-year-old stakes company  and taking down a small listed stakes race at Tampa Bay over this surface.  Last time out in the Pacso at Tampa Bay, Chance of Luck ran courageously before eventually succumbing to a horse by the name of The Money Monster, going off as the race’s 7/5 post time favorite.  The blinkers go on and he tries two turns and graded stakes company for the first time, all at once.  The connections are tossing many hurdles at this one’s hooves and he will have to prove that he can be highly adaptive and extremely courageous to be prominent in the final furlong in this affair that is rich on talent.  Chance of Luck’s chances for success are de minimus in my eyes and have to believe this will be as close as he gets to hearing My Old Kentucky Home on the first Saturday in May; appears a cut below at best.

5-Six Gun Salute 30/1 ML- He was beaten open lengths by Chance of Luck last time out in the Pasco, so you likely know my feelings about him already.  The blinkers will be added to his equipment in this one, and even though this has been a profitable angle when you follow this barn in the past, I’d have to say it appears much ado about nothing in this spot.  He was in closer contact to the pregame tailgating activity at Louisville’s Cardinal stadium than he was to the top finishers of the allowance race he was assigned to partake in last November at Churchill Downs.  He did show some late foot sprinting last time but this would be a transcendent transformation for the ages if this guy found his identity through the home stretch of the Sam F. Davis on Saturday.  Always have had great respect for this barn which is why he’s not completely hopeless, but he deserves a six gun salute and then some if he fires his best shot against this group; have a feeling he’ll head back to the receiving barn feeling quite hapless.

6-Wild Shot 5/1 ML- Conveniently drawn next to Six Gun Salute in the gate is Wild Shot, giving NRA enthusiasts a hunch exacta box for the ages.  Wild Shot is a far more respectable entrant on paper and he possesses intriguing dimensions that make him worth deep consideration.  He has Grade I and II black type on his resume for starters, finishing third in the Breeders’ Futurity to Classic Empire and second in the Kentucky Jockey Club to McCraken last time out, each a suitable headliner within the division.  Wild Shot also possesses handy speed in his races and has run with respectable courage on the front end.  The obvious downside with him is that he sports just the maiden victory and has inevitably faltered deep into the lane of both his stretch out performances.  A smaller criticism of him also comes in the fact that Robby Albarado will be his fifth rider in as many starts and to me it’s never a good sign when there isn’t a rider who is willing to stick around for more than just a first date.  Expect he will be prominent into the stretch, but I’ll be keeping my piece in my holster when it comes to acquiring win tickets with this name on them; he will have to prove me wrong.

7-Tapwrit 8/1 ML- The other Pletcher, Tapwrit arrives at Tampa Bay Downs off back to back scores and has been a much-improved horse since the addition of blinkers. By comparison to a few already mentioned, Tapwrit was a $1.2 Million purchase at auction and has champion pedigree stamped all over him.  It’s encouraging to see he has a versatile style of going and that he rallied nicely when taking down the rain-washed Pulpit, beating a next out winner in Master Plan.  It’s worth noting that Fact Finding and Tapwrit each ran the same distance over the same surface and on the same day Fact Finding was about four lengths faster than his stable mate that afternoon.  Assuming he goes off in the neighborhood of 8/1 it wouldn’t be the worst roll of the dice to cast your lot with him and see what happens—he’s fresh, improving, well-handled, royally-bred, and you know Todd Pletcher runs to win.  You can’t bet on them all if you’re going to make a profit however, and I’ll be looking for him to make his impact underneath.

8-McCraken 2/1 ML- He’s as tough and honest as they come and owns an unblemished record with all three victories taking place at Churchill Downs.  To his credit, he sports a Grade II victory and has won each start by open lengths as a clear cut winner.  Trainer Ian Wilkes has had success with some of his runners at the current meet and McCraken has been working nearby at Palm Meadows, so it’s a not a massive ship in to race for his three-year-old debut.  The main questions surrounding him are twofold: can he take his racetrack with him? He’s only run at Churchill, and although that certainly bodes well in May, it’s an entirely new surface today.  The other question is whether he’s fully cranked off the layoff, and if not, is he still good enough to lasso these in deep stretch as is his customary fashion?  Trust in the fact that he will certainly be a handful in the lane and there is pace for him to chase, but since he’s destined to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 8/5 at post time, I’m going to try and get around him for one afternoon since enough questions support taking a stand against him at the short price.  He’s obviously a prime contender, but may have some susceptibility off the bench for win honors.

9-No Dozing 4/1 ML- In the Breeders’ Futurity I’d written that you’d be wise not to sleep on this guy and that he rated a big chance at springing an upset.    Unfortunately for all parties involved, he was half-asleep in the gate when they sprung the latch and paid a severe price for his sedate beginning, breaking a half step slow and suffering a pinch back after a pinball beginning from his neighbors in the gate.  To his credit, he muscled himself into the race and finished a respectable fourth, verifying his talent and ability at the graded stakes level.  His Remsen was commendable last time out as well.  He chased home the immensely-talented Mo Town, suffering a wide trip over the nine furlongs while finishing well clear of the balance of the Grade II field.  Unfortunately for his connections and backers he’s hung out on a limb yet again today and it’s conceivable jockey Daniel Centeno may need to put him in the race a little sooner than he’d like to in order to avoid losing ground into the clubhouse turn.  His pedigree suggests that we’ll be hearing more from him as the Road to the Derby continues on.  For my money, this guy lacks value as a serious win bet on Saturday and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him sent off as an overlay somewhere in the 6/1 area when it’s all said and done.  As much as I respect him, I can’t endorse him given the circumstances he faces yet again; will look to meet up with him somewhere  down the road.

Selections: 3-8-7-6