EDITED TAMPA STAFF RELEASE — Change of Command, a winner of his two most recent starts at Gulfstream Park, has been installed as a 3-1 morning-line favorite for the 44th running of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs.
The mile-and-a-sixteenth Sam F. Davis is the 10th race on an 11-race Festival Day 44 card, with post time for the first race at 12:27 p.m. Three other stakes are scheduled: the $150,000, mile-and-40-yard Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies; the $100,000, 6-furlong Pelican Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward; and the $50,000, 6-furlong Minaret Stakes for fillies and mares 4-and-upward.
All four stakes races will be run on the main dirt track. The Sam F. Davis is a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race, with the first five finishers earning 20, 10, 6, 4 and 2 points toward qualifying for a berth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve starting gate on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
It’s the same deal for the Suncoast, which will award the first five finishers the same number of points toward qualifying for the Longines Kentucky Oaks on May 3.
Several high-profile jockeys from Gulfstream Park will head north for the Festival Preview Day gathering, with Tyler Gaffalione, Jose Ortiz and Junior Alvarado named to ride in all four stakes. Gaffalione has the mount on Change of Command, replacing Ortiz, who will ride 7-2 second choice Agate Road for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Change of Command, who is owned by the Courtlandt Farms operation of Donald Adam and trained by Claude “Shug” McGaughey, III, will break from the No. 9 post in a 12-horse field.
“I think he’s done really well since his last race” (an allowance/optional claiming victory at the Sam F. Davis distance on Jan. 5 at Gulfstream Park), McGaughey said this morning. “He is a talented horse who still has a lot to learn, and we’re giving him that chance.
“I think all of his races have been good. His workouts have been good, and if everything goes right they (the competition and his connections) are going to know he’s in there. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Tyler. My instructions to him will be to play the break, see what happens and give him a place to run when the time comes.”
The trainer plans to add blinkers to Change of Command’s equipment Saturday. “All of his races, he’s been hanging a little, and hopefully blinkers will keep him from doing that and he’ll continue his run,” McGaughey said.
It’s not unusual for the Sam F. Davis to appear as a wide-open race, given that most of the horses are just getting their 3-year-old seasons rolling. In fact, only one of the 12 has actually celebrated his actual 3rd birthday: Agate Road, the St. Elias Stable and Repole Stable-owned colt who was born on Jan. 25, 2021.
Agate Road, who will break from the No. 6 post, won the Grade II Pilgrim Stakes on the turf last October at the Belmont At The Big A meet, and four of his five starts have been on turf. He ran second in his career debut last August at Saratoga in a race that was switched from the turf to the dirt.
In addition to Agate Road, Pletcher will start Tireless, who broke his maiden here on Jan. 14 going a mile-and-40-yards. Antonio Gallardo is the jockey.
“Both (Agate Road and Tireless) have shown improvement in their dirt breezes,” Pletcher said in a text message.
The third morning-line choice at 5-1 is trainer Gary Capuano’s colt Copper Tax, who will break from the No. 7 post under jockey Charlie Marquez. Copper Tax concluded his 2-year-old campaign on a five-race winning streak, including the Rocky Run Stakes at Delaware Park and the James F. Lewis III Stakes at Laurel Park, before finishing sixth in the Grade II Remsen Stakes on Dec. 2 at Aqueduct.
Oldsmar-based trainers such as Michael Campbell, who will saddle 6-1 shot Patriot Spirit for leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Samy Camacho, and Gregg Sacco, the conditioner of 10-1 Crazy Mason, believe they can be right in the mix. Crazy Mason, who will break from the No. 4 post under Mychel Sanchez, won a mile-and-40-yard allowance on Jan. 14, 6 weeks after finishing second to Patriot Spirit in the Inaugural Stakes.
“We’re going into the Davis with a lot of confidence,” Sacco said. “He (Crazy Mason) overcame a slow pace last time and finished full of run, and he galloped out super. He’s had two workouts since then and is thriving” (Sacco said no time was recorded last Saturday when Crazy Mason worked in a thick fog).
“We’re expecting a big effort from our colt,” Sacco added. ‘We’re glad to be a part of it and hope for the best for everybody.”
The “forgotten” horse in the Sam F. Davis may be Grade III winner West Saratoga, who finished second in his lone Tampa Bay Downs start in the Jan. 13 Pasco Stakes, albeit 12 ½ lengths behind Book’em Danno.
West Saratoga, who is owned by Harry L. Veruchi and trained by Larry Demeritte, will be ridden by Jesus Castanon.
“This is one of the stronger bunches he’s run against, and this race could determine how good he is,” Demeritte said. “I think he is peaking at the right time, and he has the versatility to race on the lead or come from mid-pack, like he did in the (Grade III Iroquois Stakes on Sept. 16 at Churchill Downs).
“What impressed me in the Pasco is that he got checked on the turn and started running again. A lot of horses will pack it in in that situation, and he has continued to train well since then. I wouldn’t trade my horse for anyone’s,” Demeritte said.
In the Suncoast, which is the fifth race, Pletcher’s filly Life Talk has been made the 3-5 favorite against five opponents. Owned by Repole Stable, she will be ridden by Jose Ortiz. Life Talk won the Grade II, mile-and-an-eighth Demoiselle Stakes on Irad Ortiz, Jr., Jose’s brother, to earn her favorite’s role.
“She’s progressing very well,” Pletcher noted. “We’re excited to get her back going.”
The second choice in the Suncoast at 5-2 is Gulfstream Park stakes winner Power Squeeze, who is trained by Jorge Delgado and will be ridden by Daniel Centeno. McGaughey will send out Courtlandt Farms’s Whocouldaskformo, who broke her maiden here on Dec. 31 going a mile-and-40-yards. Gaffalione will be aboard.
In the Pelican Stakes, slated as the eighth race, 6-year-old gelding Sibelius will bid to become the sixth horse to capture back-to-back runnings of the race (Above the Wind actually won three consecutive Pelicans, from 2003-2006). Owned by Jun H. Park and Delia Nash and trained by Jeremiah O’Dwyer, Sibelius will be ridden by Junior Alvarado.
Sibelius, who used last year’s crackerjack Pelican score as a prep for a victory six weeks later in the lucrative Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored By Nakheel at Meydan Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates, appears to be rounding into similar form, if his 4-length victory in the Grade III Mr. Prospector Stakes on Dec. 23 at Gulfstream Park is an indication.
Sibelius is the 3-1 morning-line second choice, behind trainer Wesley Ward’s 5-year-old gelding Nakatomi at 9-5. Nakatomi, who will be piloted by Gaffalione, finished third in the Qatar Racing Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 4 at Santa Anita, behind subsequent Eclipse Award Champion Male Sprinter Elite Power and multiple-Grade I winner Gunite.
An eight-horse field in the Minaret Stakes, scheduled as the seventh race, is headed by 5-year-old mare Chi Town Lady, trained by Wesley Ward. Established as the 5-2 morning-line choice, she will break from the No. 2 post under Gaffalione. Chi Town Lady competed only twice in 2023, finishing third both times, but will be difficult to defeat if she can approach her form while winning the Grade I Longines Test Stakes in the summer of 2022 at Saratoga.
Arroyo is Boot Barn Jockey of the Month. In recent weeks, Angel Arroyo has displayed a knack for winning close finishes, with seven of his 11 most recent victories by less than a length. His agent, former jockey Jose Angel Garcia, says that streak can be attributed in large part to Arroyo’s excellent skills as a gate rider.
“He’s unbelievable at positioning horses out of the gate,” Garcia said. “Horses break sharp for him, and they are always right there in contention.”
Arroyo won today’s second race on 5-year-old mare Downton Tabby, enabling him to climb into a tie for ninth place in the Oldsmar standings with Kevin Gomez with 15 winners each. The victory on the 13-1 shot clinched the Boot Barn Jockey of the Month Award for the 34-year-old Panama City, Panama product.
Arroyo doesn’t have an explanation for his recent string of close victories, other than crediting the sort of consistency every jockey strives for. “I ride hard on every horse and try to do the best I can. That’s my job,” he said. “There is a lot of competition here this year, and I like that. Horse racing is a sport of highs and lows, but I try to stay upbeat.”
Arroyo cracked the top 10 in last year’s Oldsmar standings with 28 winners and followed that up by riding 57 winners at Delaware Park, finishing in third place. He has 1,385 career victories, including 446 from 2010-2012.
The graduate of the Laffit Pincay Jr. Technical Jockey Training Academy won the 2012 Parx Racing jockeys’ title with 160 winners.
“He’s one of the greatest I’ve ever had as an agent. This guy can ride horses,” Garcia said.
Arroyo and leading jockey Samy Camacho both walked off the track under their own power after a freak incident at the start of the eighth race. Funny Man, Arroyo’s mount, stumbled breaking from the No. 4 post in the mile-and-a-sixteenth race, dumping Arroyo. Funny Man then veered into the path of No. 3 Frosty the Soldier, who unseated Camacho.
When Arroyo released his reins after falling, they became tangled around the rear leg of Frosty the Soldier, and the two horses raced in tandem that way for several strides before they managed to disengage themselves and continue on their journey. Both horses were corralled by Tampa Bay Downs outriders, and the two jockeys and two horses, it appears, escaped with nothing worse than a weird shared anecdote.
Morales returns with third-place finish. For a few fleeting seconds, veteran jockey Pablo Morales thought he might be headed to the winner’s circle aboard Lucky in Love in today’s fifth race, his first start since Nov. 25.
Morales and his 4-year-old filly, owned and trained by Ron G. Potts, had to settle for a third-place finish in the maiden claiming turf event, won by Algarca. But getting back into action for the first time after breaking his left wrist in a training accident signaled that the 35-year-old rider is prepared to hit the ground running in his return.
“I’ve been OK for a couple of weeks already, but I wanted to make sure I had everything tight and flexible before I went out there. Everything is perfect,” he said. “I wasn’t really thinking much about anything except trying to do my best, make the right decisions and following the right horse, the No. 9” (eventual runner-up Far Above).
Morales, who has ridden 2,626 winners in his career, made the process sound about as easy as riding a bicycle after a long time off. “It was definitely cool, but it didn’t seem that strange to me. You just go back to it like (the injury) never happened,” he said. “You get prepared, you focus and you can go for it, and that’s what I did.
“My horse tried hard and did everything she could. She will win,” he added.
Around the oval. Apprentice jockey Gabriel Maldonado rode three winners today. He captured the first race with Just Plain Ornery, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Barbara Anderson and Juan Arriagada and trained by Arriagada. Just Plain Ornery was claimed from the race for $8,000 by trainer Jose Francisco D’Angelo for new owner Moshe Mark.
Maldonado added the fourth race on Ritz On Broadway, a 3-year-old filly owned by Joseph Irace and Alfred Noll and trained by Wayne Potts.
Maldonado also won the sixth race on Victory Line, a 4-year-old gelding owned by David A. Bernsen LLC and trained by William E. Morey.
Leading jockey Samy Camacho rode two winners. He won the third race on Good Value, a 4-year-old filly owned by Julian De Mora, Jr., and trained by Juan Carlos Avila. Camacho added the seventh on the turf with Full Nelson, a 3-year-old colt owned by Gold Square, LLC, Joseph R. Hardoon and Jose Francisco D’Angelo and trained by D’Angelo.
There will be a forced payout Sunday in the 20-cent Ultimate 6 wager, in which the jackpot normally is distributed any time a single bettor has all six winners. That stipulation will be waived Sunday, rewarding anyone picking all six winners with their share of the total pool.
If nobody hits all six, the jackpot will still go to anyone picking 5-of-6 (or 4-of-6, if that’s the best result).
The jackpot climbed to $103,047 today. Track officials estimate that the jackpot could rise to the vicinity of $500,000 if no bettor claims it Friday or Saturday, but there will be a forced payout Sunday regardless.
Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule and is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.