Conversations about Kentucky Derby preps in Florida generally center around Gulfstream Park, but on Saturday, the road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve will stop on the Gulf side of the state, at Tampa Bay Downs. The Sam F. Davis Stakes serves a dual purpose as a barometer of horse’s worthiness to be a Triple Crown candidate and to prepare him for Tampa’s main prep for the Kentucky Derby, the Tampa Bay Derby on March 7.
1. Ajaaweed: He closed strongly into slow fractions in the final furlong of the longer, 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. He should work out a ground-saving trip from the rail and get a solid pace to chase. His speed figure in the Remsen makes him a major player here. A lot of factors seem to be in his favor.
JOCKEY: Joel Rosario TRAINER: Kiaran McLaughlin
2. Sole Volante: Turned in a good effort in his dirt debut, finishing third in the Mucho Macho Man, 2 ¼ lengths behind the talented Chance It. His workouts since then have been mediocre on dirt and brilliant on turf, which is confusing. Off his last race, he seems versatile enough to be competitive on dirt and turf and should be a major factor here while trying two turns on dirt for the first time.
JOCKEY: Luca Panici TRAINER: Patrick Biancone
3. Albert Park: He has some experience over the track, which can be an advantage here, finishing second in the Pasco Stakes. That was his first race on dirt but based on the way he was unable to make up ground in the final furlong of that seven-furlong stakes, the 1 1/16-mile distance might be too long for him.
JOCKEY: Pablo Morales TRAINER: Michael Stidham
4. Independence Hall: There’s no question he’ll be a heavy favorite, and deservedly so. He’s unbeaten in three starts with convincing stakes wins at Aqueduct in his last two starts and stands as one of the favorites to win the Kentucky Derby. He’s won twice at a mile so the extra sixteenth of a mile should not be a concern, but this will be his first time around two turns and that’s always a question mark. The other concern is that he gets rambunctious in the paddock before races and the energy he exerts while acting up could prove costly in a longer race.
JOCKEY: Jose Ortiz TRAINER: Michael Trombetta
5. No Getting Over Me: All three of his starts have come at Tampa, but after an impressive 9 3/4-length romp in his debut at a mile and 40 yards, he’s been well beaten in a pair of shorter stakes. Maybe the return to two turns will bring out the best in him, but a seven length loss in the Pasco dulls any enthusiasm for him.
JOCKEY: Samy Camacho TRAINER: Gerald Bennett
6. Premier Star: Trainer Jorge Navarro ships him over from Gulfstream after he opened his career with back-to-back wins. His best recent score in an allowance was a big step forward as he cruised to a 5 1/4-length triumph at seven furlongs. Given his connections, and having John Velazquez aboard, he cannot be ignored.
JOCKEY: John Velazquez TRAINER: Jorge Navarro
7. Tiz Rye Time: He has experience at the distance, but it wasn’t impressive. He never fired in a Gulfstream allowance race, finishing fourth by seven lengths. He’ll have to take a big step forward to be a factor here.
JOCKEY: Julien Leparoux TRAINER: Ian Wilkes
8. Chapalu: He’s never raced on dirt so it’s hard to figure out what to expect from him. He’s won his last two starts, topped by the Grade 3 Grey Stakes at Woodbine on a synthetic surface. That win came at a mile and a sixteenth so the distance is not a concern. It’s the surface and having to avoid a wide trip from the outside post that weigh heavily against him.
JOCKEY: Daniel Centeno TRAINER: Arnaud Delacour
THE PICK: Ajaaweed