Saturday’s $250,000, Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs is another indicator of talent on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, with qualifying points awarded to the top four finishers. Eight horses signed on to run, and seven of them are trying to topple Independence Hall, who has won all three career starts including the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes in November and the Jerome Stakes on New Year’s Day. Although he’s the likely betting choice, there are more than a couple of horses who have run well in stakes and who may be able to stop Independence Hall’s streak. One of those is Ajaaweed, last seen beaten only a half-length when second in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes in December. Another is Albert Park, recent runner up in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Sole Volante won the Pulpit Stakes on grass in November, then off a short rest closed from sixth to get third in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. He is another horse who has the potential to run well enough to win. No Getting Over Me was only 1 ½ lengths behind Albert Park when finishing third in the Pasco, a sprint, and won his only two-turn race by nearly 10 lengths. Chapalu won the Grade 3 Grey Stakes at Woodbine near the end of October and makes his first start as a sophomore. It is worth noting that the Grey Stakes was won in 2008 by Mine That Bird before that gelding scored a big upset in the Kentucky Derby the following year. Premier Star is unbeaten in two races and has quality, but he is trying two turns and testing stakes company for the first time. Tiz Rye Time rounds out the field, having won a one-turn mile in his second career start in December then finishing a non-threatening fourth last month in an allowance race.
There’s little doubt Independence Hall has been impressive in his three races to date. He has won by margins of 4 ¾ lengths, 12 ¼ lengths and four lengths, the latter two in stakes. However, I believe Sole Volante can post the mild upset and win the Sam F. Davis Stakes. The reasons are twofold. First, Sole Volante is one of only two horses in the field to have won around two turns, the other being Chapalu, but the latter’s win came in October and he’s been away from the races for three months. Sole Volante is actually two-for-two around two turns, with both wins coming on grass. He broke his maiden at first asking in October at 7 ½ furlongs on turf, then won the Pulpit Stakes with a visually impressive rally from last of 11 in the early stages. That effort earned a career-best and field-high 109 Equibase Speed Figure. That’s better than the 107 figure Independence Hall earned in the Nashua Stakes in November. Trying dirt for the first time in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes on Jan. 4, Sole Volante wasn’t disgraced one bit as he rallied from last of six to get third at the end, beaten 2 ¼ lengths for the win and finishing seven lengths clear of the next horse in the field. Although Sole Volante regressed and earned a 98 figure, it was still better than the 94 figure Independence Hall regressed to when winning the Jerome Stakes. And, again, keep in mind that Independence Hall is running in a two-turn race for the first time. Since the Mucho Macho Man, Sole Volante has put in two morning workouts on dirt and two on turf, the most recent of which was a potentially portentous 58.25 workout for five furlongs on grass which was the best of the day at the distance. As such, I think this colt gets onto the Kentucky Derby trail with a win in the Sam F. Davis Stakes.
Independence Hall isn’t necessarily a suspect or vulnerable favorite in the race, so he has to be considered a strong win contender as well. The Constitution colt improved mightily off an 87 Equibase Speed Figure in his debut to 107 when he dominated the Nashua Stakes in November. After two months off, it might have been expected for the colt to run a bit more slowly, and he did when earning a 94 figure winning the Jerome Stakes on New Year’s Day. Since the Jerome, Independence Hall has put in four excellent morning workouts, signaling he continues to remain in top physical condition. If he can manage the two-turn trip of the Sam F. Davis he can win.
Ajaaweed ran poorly in a short six-furlong sprint in his career debut last August but was a different horse just one month later when stretching out to a mile, winning by 4 ¼ lengths. Sent to post as one of the favorites in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October, Ajaaweed ran fourth of 10 while traveling very wide around the far turn. Given two months off to mature after that, Ajaaweed returned to run a bang-up second, beaten just a half-length, in the Remsen Stakes in December. Considering the Remsen winner, Shotski, returned for his 3-year-old debut with a nice second-place effort in last week’s Withers Stakes, Ajaaweed could run even better than when he earned a career-best 98 figure in the Remsen to be a strong contender in this race.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is: Albert Park (94); Chapalu (95); No Getting Over Me (96); Premier Star (96); and Tiz Rye Time (78).