Let’s jump on I-75 and move from Gulfstream in Miami up to Tampa Bay Downs for the Sam F. Davis Stakes. The Sam F. Davis is now a points race on the Derby Trail and they’ve drawn some top-notch competition — it’s fairly common from a horse from this race to make it to the first Saturday in May. It’s a huge day at Tampa, second only to Tampa Bay Derby day, and the attention (and handle) should make for a good day for the track. Let’s look at the field of 7 (in post position order):
- Navy Armed Guard: Still a maiden, he’s been well-traveled before landing at Tampa for his last two starts. He showed some potential — while failing as the favorite — in his last starts, earning a decent speed figure. This seems over his head, even for trainer Joan Scott, who typically does well at Tampa.
- Flameaway: Always have to look out for Mark Casse with owner John Oxley. This horse has been running well on the turf and over the mud, with his best performance winning the Kitten’s Joy in front-running fashion last time out. His previous fast track try was disappointing. Leaning away, unless thunderstorms come rolling into Tampa. There’s only a 10% chance of that happening, according to the Weather Channel.
- Vino Rosso: Undefeated in two starts for Todd Pletcher, he stretched out last time to a slower speed figure over the Tampa surface. Owned by Repole and St. Elias — two major players — he would need to improve handily in his 3YO debut, which is not impossible. I give him an outside chance, but nowhere near the 3-1 morning line (much more like 6-1).
- Septimius Severus: 2 starts, with only the maiden win, he may have been comprised by the slow pace in his allowance try. Adds Jose Ortiz, which is about as good as you get. Seems overmatched, and the 15-1 line — which may drop some — seems more reasonable. Still, I’ll be looking elsewhere.
- Hollywood Star: Fresh off the Holy Bull scratch, he had some nice 2nd’s as a 2YO. But he got good pace every time and was beaten 15 lengths in the Juvenile. He’ll really need to improve. He’ll be 2nd choice, but I’ll stay away from a horse that has won just once and has run slow. Show me, first.
- Catholic Boy: The fastest speed figure in the field when he dusted Withers winner Avery Island in the Remsen in his dirt debut. He had run very well on the turf to that point. He’s had time off to hopefully improve, but all he needs is good form — the speed is there to win this race. He’s 8/5 and will probably be 4/5.
- Vouch: An impressive maiden at Laurel, he finished 3rd in the Remsen behind Catholic Boy and Avery Island. Another coming off a layoff, he’s likely outmatched for skilled conditioner Arnaud Delacour. He has early speed (but he’s not the only one) so we’ll probably hear from him in the initial stages.
Analysis: It’s Catholic Boy all the way. He’s faster and, absent regression, should win by several lengths. Vino Rosso deserves a deeper look because of the connections, but it’s hard to bet on improvement at a short-price.