Kentucky Derby Prep – Handicapping the Sam F. Davis Stakes

Strong Field for Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs

The 37th running of the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs goes Saturday, Feb. 11 and a field of 9 three-year-olds will try to take the top prize and add 10 qualifying points towards the Road to the 2017 Kentucky Derby. The top four finishers receive 10-4-2-1 Derby points, and the winner of the 1 1/16 mile race receives $150,000.

McCraken was impressive in winning the Kentucky Jockey Club

The morning line favorite is the undefeated McCraken (2/1), who breaks from the No. 8 post for trainer Ian Wilkes, who is very excited to have this caliber horse in his barn. McCraken enters this Derby qualifier with 3 consecutive wins, and each win was by open lengths with jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. aboard. This homebred from Whitham Thoroughbreds is regally bred to get the classic distance and he also possesses the right running style that often wins the Kentucky Derby. He’s been on the shelf since his impressive win at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), after that win he was shipped down South and stabled at Palm Meadows training facility. McCracken was given 5 weeks off after last win and he showed back up on the work tab on January 9 with six training runs including a pair of bullet 5 furlong works.

McCraken is carrying the top weight of 122 pounds in the Sam F. Davis. We see this race playing right into McCrakens running style, as the field is loaded with speed and many of them are making their first start around two turns. We know McCraken isn’t fully cranked up for this race, but he will be much keener than most will anticipate as he hasn’t raced in 6 weeks. The only question mark seems to be whether he will take to the very quirky surface at Tampa Bay Downs. McCraken is 3-for-3 in his early career with all wins at Churchill Downs, and he looks like the horse to beat and one to include in all your win and horizontal wagers.

This appears to be one of the key Kentucky Derby prep races this year as this field has come up much stellar than in years past as all 9 runners have run a stakes race with eight horses having finished 1st or 2nd in those races. We feel trainer Todd Pletcher’s runner Fact Finding (9/2) will have a big shot from the break with John Velazquez in the irons. This colt is also undefeated with 3 wins, and he skipped the Holy Bull last week due to a wide post draw at Gulfstream, and now tries this much tougher spot. He also has a pair of bullet works over the past month and breezed an easy 4 furlongs this week in preparation for this big race.

Fact Finding in is another high-caliber colt to use in all rolling exotics as he might have the lead at the top of the lane and be tough to run down.

The other colt that intrigues us is No Dozing (4/1) from the same connections that campaigned Barbaro. This colt has taken a little longer to get it together than others in this race, but should continue his improvement and move forward. He’s been stationed at Tampa Bay Downs since December and put his first work over the surface on New Years’ Eve.  He’s since worked five consecutive times and he shown very good account of himself galloping over the surface. His conditioner Arnaud Delacour is very underrated and also is very patient with his young horses as well.  No Dozing has 2 wins and a second in four starts, and this will be his fifth different track he raced on, and this is a horse and trainer to keep an eye on moving forward.

The rest of the field for the Sam F. Davis Stakes: Slate of Honor (8-1), King and his Court (8-1), Chance of Gun (15-1), Six Gun Salute (30-1), Wild Shot (5-1), Tapwrit (8-1),

Four stakes races are on the Saturday card at Tampa Bay Downs, with the featured Sam F. Davis going in race 10 with post time of 4:45 ET.

Kenny Schmitt contributed to this article. Follow him on Twitter @FBWinners.  

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