The Kentucky Derby trail heads south to the gulf coast of Florida and Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday for the $250,000 Grade 3 Sam F. Davis. The 1 1/16-mile affair will be contested by six colts and two geldings seeking valuable Derby points.
The race hasn’t exactly produced any major Derby threats in recent years, with 2006 winner Bluegrass Cat finishing third in that year’s Derby and then going on to win the Haskell. The prep race for the Tampa Bay Derby is likely not going to be where we’ll find a Derby horse, but stranger things have happened on the racetrack.
Last year’s winner, Well Defined, posted no better than a third-place finish in the races subsequent to the Davis in 2019.
The big name in the Sam F. Davis is Independence Hall, the Jerome winner at Aqueduct and the 6-5 morning line favorite. The top four finishers will accumulate 10-4-2-1 points toward a gate on the first Saturday in May.
Here’s a look at the entries for the Davis (post position, horse, trainer, jockey, ML odds in parenthesis):
Race 11 – Tampa Bay Downs, Post Time: 5:29 p.m. ET
1 – Ajaaweed (McLaughlin, Rosario, 4-1). Shadwell Stables sends out the son of Curlin from a red-hot rail (23 percent at the meet). He finished a close second to Shotski in the Remsen, a horse that finished second last weekend in the Withers to hold his form. Been working sharply at Palm Meadows for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who is no stranger to the Derby trail. Dangerous.
2 – Sole Volante (Biancone, Panici, 8-1). The bay gelding will make his second start on dirt after winning the Pulpit Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream. Ships across the state for Patrick Biancone with a nice speed figure from the Mucho Macho Man S. in his dirt debut finishing third behind Chance It, a colt who is pointing at the G2 Fountain of Youth later in the month. Seems to be an afterthought, but might improve second time on dirt. Not discounting his chances.
3 – Albert Park (Stidham, Morales, 15-1). Well-beaten in the local prep at 7 furlongs, he’ll stretch out to the longest distance he’s faced going two turns. Looks like synthetics are his preferred surface and Tampa’s deep track might suit him, but son of Street Sense seems to be up against it against this group. Passing.
4 – Independence Hall (Trombetta, Ortiz, 6-5). Top jock Jose Ortiz ships in to ride the son of Constitution for Michael Trombetta, who was on last year’s trail with Win Win Win. Undefeated in three career races, he’s the one to beat in here with a somewhat short field that isn’t posing many big threats. Posted a bullet over the track on Jan. 26 and on paper looks like the choice.
5 – No Getting Over Me (Bennett, Comacho, 20-1). Has gone backward since his maiden win at a mile over the Tampa track. Has posted back-to-back bullets, but local connections would have to pull a major upset to be in the winner circle. Looks to be a nice workout horse that struggles in the afternoons. Longshot for a reason.
6 – Premier Star (Navarro, Velazquez, 3-1). Intriguing entry from a trainer who does best with sprinters. Ships in from Gulfstream to stretch out to two turns for the first time. Convinced Johnny V to make the trip from South Florida to ride, which makes it all the more interesting. Trainer Jorge Navarro wins at an outlandish 32 percent clip shipping in. Either wins going away or is up the track.
7 – Tiz Rye Time (Wilkes, Leparoux, 20-1). Son of Tiznow has the breeding to go long, but faltered in his route debut last out at Gulfstream against a tough group. Has gone off at double-digit odds in his first three starts and will be going off long in here. Hard to judge by his efforts in the mornings, but he’s awfully tough to back against this crew.
8 – Chapalu (Delacour, Centeno, 8-1). Son of Flatter won last October in the G3 Grey Stakes at Woodbine after two turf efforts. This will be his debut on the dirt with local jockey Daniel Centeno in the irons who knows the track better than any rider in the race. Have to pass on him off the layoff and will wait and see how he does in his first effort on dirt.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Independence Hall; 2 – Ajaaweed; 3 – Sole Volante; 4 – Premier Star
Churchill to debut new starting gate for Kentucky Derby 146
Churchill Downs entered into an agreement with Australian-based Steriline Racing to design and construct a custom-made, 20-stall starting gate that will be used for the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 2.
The new starting gate will be utilized exclusively for the Kentucky Derby and will replace Churchill Downs’ standard starting gate, which will continue to be used for all other races.
Starting gates have been in use for racing at Churchill Downs since 1930, with the first closed electronically operated 14-stall starting gate introduced in 1941. A six-stall “auxiliary starting gate” addition, which was attached to the 14-horse starting gate, was first used in 1942 and 54 times for the Kentucky Derby during that period, including each of the last 22 years.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.