Clock, Eye Test Tell Different Stories in Sam F. Davis Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

February 11th, 2018

The clock told one story and my eyes told another when it came to Saturday’s $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at , an official prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

The clock suggested that the 8.5-furlong race was a strong event—the final time of 1:42.44 was a new stakes record, eclipsing the mark of 1:42.45 set by McCraken last year.

But visually speaking, I got a somewhat different impression. The scratch of Vouch left the race with just six starters, and Flameaway—the lone speed on paper—was able to secure an easy lead while setting modest fractions of :24.18, :47.73, and 1:11.15. These times might not be terribly slow at first glance, but I think they says more about the speed of the track than the pace, because while Flameaway galloped along in front, the rest of the field was bunched up closely behind him—just two lengths separated the first five horses at the half-mile pole.

This slow pace put the heavy favorite at a severe tactical disadvantage, given that he had to race closer to the pace than usual and suffered a wide trip while doing so. He actually ran very well under the circumstances to reach even terms with Flameaway in the homestretch before the front-runner battled back through a fourth quarter-mile in :24.81 and a final sixteenth in :06.38. In the end, Flameaway reached the wire a half-length in front of Catholic Boy.

But there’s another reason why, visually speaking, the way the race unfolded wasn’t quite as eye-catching as the final time. Vino Rosso, the third-place finisher, ran an unusual race, briefly tracking the pace before dropping back to fifth halfway through. Around the far turn, he appeared to be out of gas and heading in reverse, yet in the homestretch he found another gear and surged late to finish less than a length behind Catholic Boy. Give him another sixteenth of a mile, maybe less, and he would have rolled right by the leaders.

So what does all of this mean for the future? My takeaways are as follows…
  1. In a rematch of the top two finishers, I’ll take Catholic Boy, who endured a wider trip and a trickier pace setup than Flameaway while making his first start off a layoff.
  2. Vino Rosso seems like a colt that hasn’t put everything together yet, but he has the pedigree to be a factor as distances get longer and could benefit from maturity. Down the road, he’s the horse that interests me most.
  3. That said, the waters get deeper from here on out and I believe the top three finishers will all need to step up their game to hold their own against the best horses on the Derby trail.
What were your impressions of the Sam F. Davis Stakes?