Tampa Bay Downs Scenic

Tampa Bay Downs Scenic (SV Photography)

After a busy week with the Robert B. Lewis, the Withers and the Holy Bull, things are quiet on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” this weekend outside of the Grade 2 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs.

The Sam F. Davis Stakes, a prep for next month’s Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, drew a compact, yet solid group of three-year-olds with ten qualifying points going to the victor of the mile and a sixteenth event.

The field is led by #6 Catholic Boy.

The winner of the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct last December makes his first start off a two-month freshening for high percentage conditioner Jonathan Thomas. The son of More Than Ready had raced over the turf in his initial three starts, but Thomas tried the dirt with him last time out and he passed with flying colors.

Catholic Boy is the deserving 8-5-morning line favorite and the clear one to beat based on that last run, as well as his 3 for 4 record overall, but he could be over bet off of that 98 BRIS Speed Rating two months ago.

I respect Catholic Boy’s chances and will use him with my key horse, but I am concerned that Thomas may not have him fully cranked for the Davis. With the ultimate goal being Louisville in May it is likely he will be using this race to set his star colt up for a huge effort in his final prep for the Kentucky Derby next month.

On the other hand, #7 Vouch should be set for his best and will provide plenty of value for trainer Arnaud Delacour.

The $230,000 Keeneland November 2016 purchase was defeated handily by Catholic Boy in the Remsen, but that was Vouch’s first start against winners. The son of Yes It’s True raced off the pace for the initial time in New York after a dominating wire-to-wire score on debut in Maryland and was floated wide into the first turn, yet still fought on a bit late to finish third.

Delacour has been on absolute fire at Tampa to start the meeting winning 11 off 33 and he legs up his go-to jockey in Daniel Centeno for the first time. I expect Centeno to be more aggressive than Joel Rosario was with Vouch in the Remsen. Without a ton of early speed signed on, look for him to be on the engine or stalking right off the pace of #2 Flameaway in the early going. If he can avoid a hot pace on the front end he could have enough late to spring the upset.

#4 Vino Rosso, #5 Hollywood Star, and #2 Flameaway are the other logical contenders.

Vino Rosso enters his first graded stakes race a perfect 2 for 2 for Todd Pletcher and Repole Stable. He has every right to continue to move forward and is a must use with Vouch in the exotics, especially since Pletcher has won this race four times since 2010.

#5 Hollywood Star was scratched out of last Saturday’s Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park to run on Saturday in the Davis. The son of Malibu Moon lacks early speed and only beat half the field in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but has trained forwardly for his first start of 2018 and should be rolling late if they go too quick early.

#2 Flameaway has raced over dirt, turf, slop and the synthetic surface at Woodbine for trainer Mark Casse and has been competitive for the most part. He may be a tier below the top three-year-olds in the land, but his tactical speed should have him in the race from the break. I would be surprised if he got to the wire first, but can see him picking up a minor share.

Here are my suggested wagers for the Grade 2 Sam F. Davis on Saturday afternoon:

Win 7 (if 6-1 or higher)

Exacta 6-7

Trifecta Key

7 with 2+3+5+6

Trifecta Wheel

3+5+6 with 7 with 2+3+5+6

Good luck to everyone getting involved. Let’s keep things rolling on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby!”