Knicks Go winning the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) - Keeneland Photo

Knicks Go winning the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) – Keeneland Photo

I don’t think anyone will deny that #3 Knicks Go was among the best two-year-olds of 2018, but that doesn’t mean that he’ll be unbeatable in Saturday’s $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs.

Knicks Go will surely be favored in the 1 1/16-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race, but he’ll be making his first start in 2 ½ months while facing a quality field and carrying top weight of 124 pounds. Plus, I don’t think there’s any guarantee that Knicks Go will run back to his very best efforts from last year. No doubt, his best efforts included some very big races. A 5 ½-length romp in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) signaled his emergence as a promising Kentucky Derby contender, and he followed up that front-running score with a game runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I).

But I wonder if Knicks Go ran his heart out in the Juvenile. He tried his absolute best to hold off future champion Game Winner, running with his ears flat against the back of his head while steadily (and sometimes sharply) drifting out through the homestretch. It was a gallant run, but how much did it take out of him? Three weeks later, he failed to fire over a sloppy track in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) and trudged home eleventh of fourteen. Perhaps the layoff will help him rebound, and he’s posted three very fast workouts in preparation for this race, but I’m tempted to play against him until he shows that he can recapture his juvenile form.

It’s also worth noting that there’s quite a bit of speed in the Sam F. Davis field, so Knicks Go is unlikely to secure an easy lead. A fast pace would play to the strengths of #6 Kentucky Wildcat, a gritty maiden winner going a mile at Aqueduct on December 1. Owned by Godolphin and trained by Tom Albertrani, Kentucky Wildcat had shown some promise in his first two starts, but stepped up nicely with his effort at Aqueduct. Racing off the lead and very wide in a slow-paced race, Kentucky Wildcat overcame these obstacles to take command in the homestretch and outrun the next-out maiden winner Country House to win by half a length.

Kentucky Wildcat’s maiden win came back reasonably fast on the speed figure scales (90 BRIS and 86 Beyer), and a better setup on Saturday could trigger further improvement. Plus, he’ll carry just 118 pounds in the Sam F. Davis, six less than Knicks Go. To me, that sounds like the recipe for an upset victory.

I’ll bet Kentucky Wildcat to win and play him in the exacta with Knicks Go and #4 Cave Run, a sharp debut winner who didn’t run all that badly when finishing third in a fast renewal of the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs last month. Cave Run is bred like a classic winner and could relish the extra distance on Saturday.

$14 to win on #6 Kentucky Wildcat
$3 exacta: 6 with 3,4 ($6)
$5 exacta: 3,4 with 6 ($10)

Good luck!