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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Edited Tampa Bay Release — Since the Sam F. Davis became a Grade III stakes in 2009, it has had a significant impact on the Triple Crown scene on numerous occasions. Whether that will be the case this year is difficult to predict, but there is no doubt the eyes of the Thoroughbred racing world will be on Tampa Bay Downs next Saturday for the 41st running of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race for 3-year-olds.

The $250,000 Sam F. Davis, contested at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track, is one of three Grade III stakes on the Feb. 6 card, along with the $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for older males on the turf and the $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour for older fillies and mares on the turf. The fourth stakes on the card is the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes on the dirt for 3-year-old fillies, a “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points race.

While the 2009 Sam F. Davis winner, General Quarters, later won Grade I stakes on dirt and turf (Keeneland actually employed an all-weather synthetic surface when General Quarters won the 2009 Toyota Blue Grass), the third-place Sam F. Davis finisher, Musket Man, was equally as successful later – perhaps more so. The Derek Ryan-trainee returned to win the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby and the Grade II Illinois Derby and finished third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and the BlackBerry Preakness. As a 4-year-old, Musket Man was second in two Grade I stakes: the Carter Handicap and the Metropolitan Handicap.

Rule won the Sam F. Davis the following year, and although he never reached the top rung of his class, he did amass more than $1-million in earnings. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, won his first Kentucky Derby that spring with Super Saver, who did not run in the Sam F. Davis but finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby.

The Sam F. Davis really started heating up as a Triple Crown prep race in 2016. Destin, under John Velazquez, rewarded Pletcher with his sixth Davis victory, then set a track record in winning the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby four weeks later. He finished second by a nose to Creator in one of the most exciting Belmont Stakes in recent history.

Pletcher would not be denied a Belmont victory the following year. After running second to McCracken in the Sam F. Davis, Tapwrit established his bona fides with a stakes-record performance in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. The Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets was the crowning jewel in Tapwrit’s career (he failed to win in five subsequent starts).

If you weren’t here for the 2019 Sam F. Davis Stakes, well, you don’t know what you missed. Trainer Mark Casse’s Flameaway won in stakes-record time of 1:42.44 and returned to finish second in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby; he won the Challenger Stakes here as a 4-year-old. But it was the Sam F. Davis second and third-place finishers, Catholic Boy and Vino Rosso, who went on to make their connections rich(er).

Under the tutelage of trainer Jonathan Thomas, Catholic Boy won the Grade I Belmont Derby Invitational on turf, then switched back to dirt to capture the Grade I Runhappy Travers at Saratoga. He earned more than $2.1-million in his career. Vino Rosso, under the masterful Pletcher, won more than $4.8-million, thanks mainly to victories as a 4-year-old in the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes and the Longines’ Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

Information about this year’s Sam F. Davis, and the other Festival Preview Day 41 Presented by Lambholm South stakes races, will be forthcoming over the next several days, so stay tuned.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Tampa Bay Downs is limiting general-admission attendance for the Feb. 6 card to 2,500 spectators. Tickets, which are $10 each plus a service fee, are being sold online through and at the program stands.

Horsemen, box-seat holders and season-ticket holders do not need to purchase tickets, but must present their passes at the gate to gain admittance.

Seating will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis unless patrons have prior arrangements in the Skye Terrace Dining Room, Sports Gallery, Clubhouse Carrels or Legends Bar, but the purchase of a general-admission ticket is still required to gain admittance.

The track is also selling a limited number of tables in the Backyard Picnic Area for $50 each plus a service fee; that price includes admission for six people.

Here is the link for Festival Preview Day 41 tickets and picnic-area seating:

Everyone will be required to wear masks or face coverings and maintain appropriate social distancing.

Around the oval. Daniel Centeno, Hector Diaz, Jr., Jose Batista and Tomas Mejia each rode two winners today. Centeno scored in the first race on Princess Livia, a 5-year-old Florida-bred mare owned and trained by Victor Carrasco, Jr. Princess Livia was claimed from the race for $12,500 by new owner-trainer Tim Padilla.

Centeno also won the third race on first-time starter Lady Jean, a 4-year-old filly owned by Winning Stables and trained by that outfit’s maestro, Gerald Bennett.

Diaz won the seventh and eighth races on the turf in eerily similar fashion. In the seventh, Diaz rallied 5-year-old gelding Fly Nightly to a head victory for breeder-owner Hill ’N Dale Farm and trainer Michael Stidham. Diaz added the eighth, the Lambholm South Race of the Week, by a nose with a flying finish on first-time starter Captivance, a 3-year-old filly owned by Stonestreet Stables and trained by Christophe Clement.

Batista won the fifth and ninth races. He captured the fifth on the grass with Lady Cloverly, a 4-year-old filly owned by Vicente Stella Stables and Alberto Jose Mendoza and trained by Juan C. Avila. Batista added the ninth with Stopit, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by Lucia Bernal and trained by Robert Drake.

Mejia won the sixth race on Caramel Chip, a 3-year-old colt owned by Thoroughbred Champions Training Center and trained by Maria I. Mejia (no relation). The rider added the 10th and final race on the turf with Catsoutofthebag, a 5-year-old mare owned and trained by Mike Dini, who also owns and trains second-place finisher Here Comes Jackie.

Thoroughbred racing continues Sunday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:42 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs currently races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule. The track 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.

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