Well Defined winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) - Photo by SV Photography

Well Defined winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) – Photo by SV Photography

The $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs was supposed to feature a fast pace and a speed duel between a few of the prominent front-runners in the field. But Well Defined simply laughed at that notion, waltzing along on an uncontested lead to win the race in dominant fashion.

Equipped with blinkers for the first time, Well Defined rocketed out of the starting gate like he’d been shot from a cannon and quickly established a three-length lead in the 1 1/16-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race. Surprisingly, no one was willing to oppose him—not the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) winner and race favorite Knicks Go, not the speedy sprinter Going for Gold, and not even the front-running stakes winner Five Star General.

With no one to apply pressure, Well Defined wound up waltzing along through steady but unremarkable fractions of :23.23, :47.09, and 1:11.68. That was a significantly different trip than the one Well Defined encountered in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream last month, when he was beaten to a lead through a fast pace and retreated to finish fifth. The result of this vastly different setup? Well Defined never slowed down, running the fourth quarter-mile of the Sam F. Davis in :24.73 and the final sixteenth in :06.29 to win by a comfortable 2 ¾ lengths in 1:42.70 seconds.

“He’s had little things that have happened and he’s grown up mentally and physically, and today he showed up with his game face on,” winning trainer Kathleen O’Connell told Tampa Bay Downs after the race. “…His rear end slipped out from underneath him in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and he was compromised on early position when he ran in the Mucho Macho Man and got bottled up inside. He’s a young horse who is improving, mind-wise and everything-wise.”

Winning jockey Pablo Morales, who was masterful in his rationing of Well Defined’s speed, also praised the gelding’s talent. “The horse is naturally fast and has a super-long stride, so I was going to come out running, but if somebody wanted to take the lead, I was OK with that,” he said. “All I wanted to do was ride a cool and collected race and keep my horse running… I had a lot of horse going into the second turn, so I figured I was going to ask him a little more and not wait for them to get me. If they were going to catch me, they were really going to have to come running.”

Kentucky Wildcat gamely gave chase through the homestretch but was no match for the winner, ultimately settling for second place by 8 ¾ lengths over So Alive. Longshot Counter Offer finished fourth by a nose over Knicks Go, who weakened after the first six furlongs in a disappointing 2018 debut. Unfortunately, Kentucky Wildcat was vanned off following the race, and Marty McGee of the Daily Racing Form later reported that the colt had suffered a non-life-threatening condylar fracture to his right foreleg that will require surgery to repair.

But for Well Defined, the Sam F. Davis Stakes was a career highlight and a major step toward the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Owned by Stonehenge LLC, the son of With Distinction received a solid 93 Beyer speed figure and picked up 10 Kentucky Derby qualification points. According to O’Connell, Well Defined could target the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) for his next start.