Fact Finding Mission: How To Bet the 2017 Sam F. Davis Stakes

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Ed DeRosa

February 10th, 2017

I had it all planned out; I was going to sound so smart.

After backing short-priced favorites El Areeb in the Withers and Classic Empire in the Holy Bull, the Sam F. Davis Stakes was going to be my big reveal. “Sure, I loved those favorites, but that’s only so you’d really pay attention to me when I pick against this week’s favorite!”

The plan didn’t go according to plan when Classic Empire finished third as the 2-to-5 favorite, and now I fear that my pick against McCraken will be perceived as an over-correction, but the reality is it’s just opportunity.

McCraken is 2-to-1 on the morning line to defeat eight rivals in the 1 1/16-mile Davis on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs. For FREE Ultimate Past Performances, CLICK HERE.

I’d make his fair odds about 4-to-1, which means A) he’s a bet against, and B) there’s likely going to be opportunity elsewhere, but where?

Let’s start with McCraken, though. This is obviously a talented horse: he’s undefeated in three starts, has defeated horses who have gone on to win other stakes races, has a trainer who has been there before (Ian Wilkes was assistant to two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Carl Nafzger), and his pedigree (by Ghostzapper out of a Seeking the Gold mare) portends good things the farther he goes.

But for me those are reasons to like him on May 6 at Churchill Downs at say 10- or 15-to-1 and not on February 11 at Tampa bay Downs at 2-to-1 (or less)—especially given the presence of Fact Finding and No Dozing, two horses who have run faster than McCraken on the Brisnet Speed Rating scale. That is to say either of those appeal more in this spot even if McCraken has the most upside as a Triple Crown prospect.

From Kentucky Derby Dream Bet qualifying perspective, we’ll go with Fact Finding “on top” on the strength of 101 Speed Rating earned when winning the Smooth Air Stakes in December at Gulfstream as well as the tactical advantage he looks to have from a trip standpoint, as through 15 races at 1 1/16 miles at the current Tampa meeting, “E” and “E/P” types have proven the much better bet than closers, which McCraken certainly is.

Posts 8 and beyond have been no picnic either, winning at just a 6% clip with a 0.51 Impact Value (half as many wins as the odds would indicate). That outside post stat is a reason I sided with Fact Finding over No Dozing, who’s in the 9 hole and will also be coming from off the pace.

Fact Finding is the only horse in the race with a 90+ E2 pace rating AND a triple digit late pace rating in the same race. He could be very tough to reel in from post 3, and is a play to win at 3-to-1 or better.

The other two worth pointing out are #1 State of Honor with speed and the rail and #4 Chance of Luck stretching out for strong local connections. State of Honor has run well around two turns on the synthetic at Woodbine and looks good coming into this off a career-best Speed Rating when making his three-year-old and dirt debut in a one-turn mile at Gulfstream Chance of Luck gets some post relief after a wide trip and getting caught by The Money Monster when 7-to-5 in the Pasco, but Skipshot progeny can go long, and at 15-to-1 he’s a must-use for me in the gimmicks.


$1 exacta box 1, 3, 4, 9. There’s enough of a chance that McCraken’s late run isn’t good enough to get second in this spot. If I’m right about the others, there could be value in this gimmick beating the favorite.

$0.50 tri 8 with 1, 4 with 1, 3, 4, 9. $1 exacta key box 8 with 1, 4. My one hedge with McCraken on top is to beat the 2nd and 3rd choices in the 2nd spot. For $7 it’s worth trying to make something happen with the bigger prices.

$0.50 tri 3, 9 with 1, 3, 4, 8, 9 with ALL. This is the “big bet” for $28. It really presses my view on #s 3 & 9 being the best value on top, and gives us the best chance at a score if McCraken runs out.