This Saturday puts us only 12 short weeks away from the Kentucky Derby. It’s so close you can almost smell the roses. With the excitement of the Derby on the horizon, we’ve decided to focus our attention on Tampa Bay Downs this weekend which features 4 stakes races highlighted by Race 11 the Sam F. Davis Stakes – a Grade III race for 3-year olds.
Race 11 – Sam F Davis Stakes (22:25 GMT / 17:25 ET)
Weather forecast for Tampa this weekend is for clear skies and temperatures in the high 70’s. The Sam F. Davis Stakes traditionally serves as the local prep race for the Tampa Bay Derby which will be held on March 9th. Past winners of this race include multiple graded stakes winners: Burning Roma (2001), Bluegrass Cat (2006), Any Given Saturday (2007) and McCracken (2017) and while trainer Todd Pletcher has had a stranglehold on this race winning 6 of the last 13 runnings, his lone entry in this year’s race, So Alive is listed at 5-1 on the morning line.
So Alive is a son of Super Saver whom Todd Pletcher trained to win the Kentucky Derby back in 2010. He comes into this race after winning an optional claimer on this track back on January 6th which was his second win in three starts. Todd Pletcher may have tipped his hand a bit with So Alive firing a bullet workout on February 3rd with the fastest 4-furlong drill of 37 horses working that day.
Pletcher flies in Javier Castellano to ride this horse for the second time – the first time being the only loss of his career on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs. History tells us Todd Pletcher knows how to win this race and at 5-1 he’s worth a solid win wager.
Pace-wise I see the race setting up for a pace collapse with a LOT of speed signed on. Knicks Go is listed as the 5-2 morning line favorite and he likes to be on the pace, a strategy that will do him no favors on Saturday with Going for Gold, Five Star General, Well Defined and Still Dreaming all looking to be on or near the lead. I think Knicks Go is a bad favorite as I see So Alive sitting a stalking trip off the hot pace and taking over with Kentucky Wildcat and longshot Counter Offer battling for minor placings.
Sam F Davis Stakes Free Tip
So Alive – 1pt win
Race 7 (20:20 GMT / 15:20 ET)
Race 7 is an interesting maiden race I want to spend a few minutes sorting through. The 3-1 morning line favorite, Tench is breaking from post 1.
Tench is bred to sprint top and bottom sired by Majesticperfection out of a Smoke Glacken mare and he has every right to be the goods off a bang up second place finish first time out but I’m taking a contrarian approach. Tench’s trainer Tim Hamm is only winning at 10% and with world class trainer Todd Pletcher training Cobble Hill at 9-2, I’ll take my chances with him.
Cobble Hill was favored at Gulfstream first time out where he finished a flat third, beaten 5 ¾ lengths. From there, Pletcher tried him on the grass where he dueled and faded to finish 5th. Typically, once Todd Pletcher tries the lawn he doesn’t go back to dirt racing so quickly so he must see something in this $350,000 son of Verrazano (whom he also trained).
Pletcher sees enough in Cobble Hill to ride one of his main riders – Javier Castellano and wins at a solid rate of 24% going turf to dirt. Cobble Hill will also be wearing blinkers for the first time which is a move that has produced winners 17% of the time.
I like first time starter World Affairs to round out the exacta for Phil Serpe and Jose Ortiz as he’s been working solidly since last September and should have more than enough of a foundation for his first start.
Race 8 (20:50 GMT / 15:50 ET)
Race 8 is the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes for $175,000 at 1 1/16 Miles on what should be a firm turf course and that firm ground should help 9-5 morning line favorite Heart to Heart run away with a victory.
Heart to Heart has been arguably one of the top 5 most successful milers in America in the last four years with over $2million in earnings. His weapon is speed and with only moderate pace signed on to press, the rest of the field should be battling for second place once the dust settles.
Qurbaan, Divisidero, Irish Strait and last year’s winner- Inspector Lynley are all graded stakes winners but aside from Irish Strait who doesn’t appear fast enough, the others do their best running when there’s some pace to chase. This should be a great opportunity for Heart to Heart to get back to his winning ways for the first time since April 2018.
Heart To Heart – 1pt win
Race 9 (21:22 GMT / 16:22 ET)
Three year old fillies take center stage in race 9 – The Suncoast Stakes at 1 mile and 40 yards. There should be three fillies vying for favoritism here and while the race looks close on paper, I like a longshot to spoil the party.
Winning Envelope is lined at 7-2 and has never raced on dirt. Her trainer is currently 0 for 6 on the meet and wins at a 7% rate going turf to dirt with his last 43 starters. She has been working over the track since at least early January but at short odds I’m looking elsewhere.
Lady Kate should be shorter odds than her 6-1 morning line with hot connections – Eddie Kenneally and Jose Ortiz but she’s only run one race and will be stretching out to a route here. Again, a tall task at short odds.
Twixt and Shout is lined at 4-1 and broke her maiden on this surface back in December but hasn’t been seen since and trainer Eoin Harty has a ghastly 5%-win rate with his stakes entrants.
Sweet Diane is 3-1 with solid connections and she’s probably got the best chance of the favorites however Her Royal Highness is the one I want to bet here.
Her Royal Highness ships in from Maryland and is 8-1 on the morning line. Trainer Graham Motion is one of the best in the game and is likely to get overlooked here with fillies with gaudier speed figures likely to attract more attention. Her Royal Highness has won 2 of 3 starts after finishing second on debut at Laurel Park and while the favorites have higher speed figures to date, they all have similar -run early- running styles. I think the pace sets up for Her Royal Highness to run them down at a generous price.
Her Royal Highness – 1pt win