The Sam F. Davis Stakes is essentially a prep race for the Tampa Bay Derby, but in the past three years the Grade 3 stakes has produced a surprising number of horses who have played important roles in major races later in the year.
Led by Tapwrit, who won the 2017 Belmont Stakes after running second in the Sam F. Davis, other horses who have recently competed in the Sam F. Davis include 2018 Travers Stakes winner Catholic Boy, 2018 Wood Memorial Stakes winner Vino Rosso, 2017 Haskell runner-up McCraken, and Destin, who was second in the 2016 Belmont Stakes. As for this year’s race, the Davis attracted a field of 10 topped by Grade 1 winner Knicks Go, who will be making his 3-year-old debut.
Sam F. Davis Stakes
Racetrack: Tampa Bay Downs in Tampa, Fla.
Date: Feb. 9
Distance: 1 1/16 miles
Post Time: 5:25 p.m. ET
Notable winners: Flameaway (2018), McCraken (2017), Destin (2016), Any Given Saturday (2007), Bluegrass Cat (2006)
First held: 1981
Kentucky Derby points: 10-4-2-1 to top four finishers, respectively
1. Counter Offer (12-1 on morning line): Has experience on this racetrack and has been training here since December, which is a plus. Started his career on turf, but then tackled dirt for the first time in an off-the-turf allowance race at Churchill Downs. Turned in a solid second-place effort at Tampa in an allowance/optional claimer race last month and seems to be on the upswing, but faces some salty competition here. He’s trained by Ian Wilkes, who won this race in 2017 with McCraken.
2. Going for Gold (20-1): He’s a maiden after two starts for owner Ron Paolucci, but lost by a nose and a neck in those tries. Has some talent but has yet to race beyond six furlongs and is a question mark at the distance. Figures to be part of the early pace.
3. Knicks Go (5-2): The lone graded stakes winner in the field, he posted a 70-1 upset in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and followed it up with a game, runner-up finish at 40.50-1 behind 2-year-old champ Game Winner in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Ended the year like, well, the New York Knicks, as he finished 11th as the favorite on a sloppy racetrack in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. Has been training brilliant on the track, highlighted by a 58.40 seconds workout on Jan. 26, and seems poised for a big effort.
4. Cave Run (6-1): Is owned by Godolphin but has been based at Tampa Bay. Was impressive in a 6 ¼-length maiden win in the slop but then disappointed with a 10 1/4-length loss in the Pasco Stakes here. The well-bred son of Street Sense needs to revert to the form of his career debut to be a factor here.
5. Moonster (30-1): Has struggled since a maiden win at Churchill Downs in September. Was 16 ½ lengths behind Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Futurity and a 13-length loss in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park in his last race inspires little confidence. Only positive sign is a string of quick workouts in recent weeks.
6. Kentucky Wildcat (9-2): Another Godolphin homebred, he has been based in New Yok and has improved in each start. Beat a nice field in his maiden win on Dec. 1 at Aqueduct and, as a son of Tapit, should not be fazed while racing around two turns for the first time. Figures to be a major player here.
7. Five Star General (4-1): Is owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and SF Racing, which was the original group that owned 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, but there’s no talk about Apollo here as he won two of his three starts at two. Won a stakes in his last start, but that was in the Central Park at Aqueduct which was moved from the turf course to the main track. His other win also was in an off-the-turf race, and he will be tested for class as he tries to pull rank on his rivals in a graded dirt stakes.
8. So Alive (5-1): He’s trained by Todd Pletcher and it wouldn’t be the Sam F. Davis without the seven-time Eclipse Award winner in the entries. Pletcher has won this stakes six times already and has a nice chance at number seven with this son of his 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. He made his 3-year-old debut at Tampa with a promising victory in an allowance race and should be even more formidable with Javier Castellano in the saddle. Ignore Pletcher in the Davis at your own risk.
9. Well Defined (8-1): Showed a great deal of promise at Gulfstream Park at two, but then faded to 12th in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Pressed the pace in the Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream while making his 3-year-old debut but dropped back to fifth at the finish, 12 lengths behind the winner. Should benefit from that start and, with the addition of blinkers, might be tougher on the front end.
10. Still Dreaming (15-1): Took a nice step forward in his second start and posted a decisive maiden win at Laurel last month. Appears to have some talent but faces a tough task with the expected ground loss from the outside post while facing stakes company for the first time.
THE PICK: So Alive
LIVE LONGSHOT: Well Defined