Despite entering the race as a maiden, the 3-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Giant’s Causeway-Jen’s Fashion looked the part of, well, a battle-hardened veteran, surging to the lead near the eighth pole and withstanding a belated run from Pasco Stakes winner Prospective by a length-and-a-quarter.
The winner – who had two seconds in three previous starts, both in two-turn races – was the third betting choice among a crowd of 5,344 in the wide-open race, paying $11.
“He was very professional today,” said Leparoux, who was riding Battle Hardened for the first time. “He broke good and put me in the right spot right away. In a big field, I knew we’d be in traffic. When he settled near the inside, he relaxed the way I wanted him to.
“I was inside, inside and then on the second turn, I was able to get out and this horse has a long stride and he kept going,” said Leparoux. “Eddie told me to warm him up good and it went well. I knew he was a maiden, of course, but Eddie told me his last race at Gulfstream was kind of like a win because he had a bad post and some bad luck. He ran big today.”
Kenneally, who trains Battle Hardened for owners Michael B. Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier, had cross-entered the colt in a maiden race at Gulfstream and did not decide until Friday to take a shot at the Sam F. Davis.
“This was a really good bunch of quality horses, but no stars, and that was one reason we decided to take a shot today,” said Kenneally, who won the 2010 Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes with Santiva when he was a maiden. “He’s been training brilliantly and we were happy with how he was coming into the race, so we decided to come here and get some of the big money.
“He showed a little more professionalism today. He relaxed nicely in the thick of things. He was in a group of horses in tight and he had plenty of reasons to back out of there if he wanted to, but he showed a little bit of gameness and a little bit of toughness like you want to see going forward to the bigger races down the road.
We’ll definitely take a real good look at the Tampa Bay Derby (March 10) and it’s very likely,” Kenneally added. “We knew when his races started to go longer he was going to be a better horse. Two-turn races are what he wants to do and he is very good at it.”
Battle Hardened was bred by Lakeside Farm LLC and purchased by the owners as a July yearling for $170,000. His winner’s share of the purse was $120,000.
Mark Casse, who trained Florida Oaks winner Dixie Strike on Saturday and was second with Exclusive Love in the Endeavour Stakes, had mixed feelings about Prospective’s effort.
“You know, he ran really funny,” Casse said. “I thought turning for home he was through, but (jockey) Luis (Contreras) said as soon as (Battle Hardened) came outside him, he took off again. So if we can get him to try harder, he’ll be really good. We might make a few little changes and hopefully come back and try him again (in the Tampa Bay Derby).”
The Sam F. Davis was the centerpiece of Tampa Bay Downs’ Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South. In the other graded stakes, the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes for fillies and mares at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf, Martin S. Schwartz’s 5-year-old mare Zagora justified her 9-10 odds, rolling to a two-and-a-quarter length victory from Exclusive Love under winning rider Javier Castellano. Keertana rallied for third in the eight-horse field.
Zagora, a French-bred daughter of Green Tune-Zaneton who is trained by Chad Brown, had last raced Sept. 18 at Woodbine in a Grade II stakes. That followed her victory last July in the Grade I Diana at Saratoga, and she was back to that level Saturday, winning in a speedy 1:40.92 for the distance.
“It’s the first time I’ve been up on her since last year but it was like getting back with an old friend,” Castellano said. “We really had a perfect trip. I got her to the inside and she relaxed. When we were getting near the stretch, I asked her and she put in a strong run and that was that.”
Assistant trainer Jose Hernandez, who accompanied Zagora on the van trip from Palm Meadows on Saturday morning, was ecstatic about her performance.
“She was doing so well and training really good at Palm Meadows (Training Center),” Hernandez said. “Chad didn’t tell me anything, only ‘Good luck’ about a half-hour before the race. It is something amazing to be around a mare like this. Javier had a great hold on her and got great position, the fractions were good and she showed her class.”
All-sources handle was approximately $8.2 million, the second-highest total for a Festival Preview Day card.
Live racing resumes Sunday with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in the Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.