The eyes of much of the Thoroughbred racing community will be focused on Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, when a number of legitimate Triple Crown hopefuls will compete in the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track.
Watch & wager the action at one of two new Richmond Off Track Betting Centers — at Breakers Sports Grille in the west end or at Ponies & Pints downtown in Shockoe Bottom. Virginia residents can also bet on line at one of four partner sites — TVG.com, XPressBet.com, TwinSpires.com and NYRABets.com.
The 37th edition of the Sam F. Davis is the showpiece of the track’s annual Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South, with three graded stakes on the card and total stakes-purse money of $650,000.
The Sam F. Davis Stakes is a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” race, with the top four finishers receiving 10-4-2-1 points toward qualifying for the Run for the Roses starting gate on May 6 at Churchill Downs. It is also the major prep race for the Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 11.
Also scheduled Saturday are the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf; the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf; and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40-yards on the main track.
Reigning two-time Eclipse Award champion mare Tepin, who won the 2016 Lambholm South Endeavour, is scheduled to work Monday at Palm Meadows, after which trainer Mark Casse will decide whether to return for a defense of last year’s triumph.
Back to the Sam F. Davis and unbeaten 3-year-old colt McCraken, considered by many observers to be the leading Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands candidate. The son of 2004 Horse of the Year and Hall of Fame member Ghostzapper is expected to make his 2017 debut in the Sam F. Davis for breeder-owner Whitham Thoroughbreds and trainer Ian Wilkes. McCraken breezed five furlongs Tuesday in 1:01.1 at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla.
McCraken, who has raced solely at Churchill Downs, concluded his 2-year-old campaign with an impressive victory in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes under jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr.
Another leading Kentucky Derby prospect, the Lael Stables-homebred colt No Dozing, has been prepped locally for the Sam F. Davis by Tampa Bay Downs trainer Arnaud Delacour, breezing five furlongs here Saturday in 1:01.20. Now 2-for-4 lifetime, No Dozing opened a lot of eyes with his game runner-up finish to Mo Town in the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 26. No Dozing’s sire, Union Rags, won the 2012 Belmont Stakes.
Seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won the Sam F. Davis six times in the last 11 years, including last year with Destin, is expected to send an unbeaten colt to the Sam F. Davis in Fact Finding, who is 3-for-3 for the ownership group of Michael Tabor, M.V. Magnier, Derrick Smith and Stonestreet Stables. The speedy Fact Finding won his 2-year-old races by a combined 13 ¾ lengths, including a season-ending, seven-length victory on Dec. 10 in the Smooth Air Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Other likely starters for the Sam F. Davis include Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes runner-up Wild Shot, trained by George R. Arnold, II, and Oldsmar trainer Gerald Bennett’s Chance of Luck, who won the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes here on Dec. 3 and finished second in the $100,000 Pasco Stakes on Jan. 21.
Also probable are King and His Court, a Casse-trained gelding who won the Coronation Futurity and the Display Stakes last fall at Woodbine in Toronto; State of Honor, another Casse runner who finished second in the Coronation Futurity and the Jan. 7 Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream; and Six Gun Salute, trained by Eoin Harty.
Tepin, owner Robert E. Masterson’s 6-year-old mare who has earned $4,437,918 while also defeating males on some of the biggest stages imaginable, began her second Eclipse Award-winning season here last year with victories in the Lambholm South Endeavour and the Grade II, $200,000 Hillsborough Stakes.