Five things to know for 2018 Sam F. Davis

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

February 9th, 2018

Tampa Bay Downs is the next stop on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail, with Saturday’s Sam F. Davis (G3) worth points on the 10-4-2-1 scale. The 1 1/16-mile test serves as a course-and-distance prep for the March 10 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) that offers five times the points.

The seven-horse field includes three proper Derby contenders, including one in this weekend’s Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW), so the result will furnish some clues.

Here are my five things to know for the Davis:

1. A victory by Catholic Boy will have an impact on Pool 2 of the Future Wager. Pegged at 20-1 on the KDFW Pool 2 morning line, Catholic Boy is hovering at 17-1 as of mid-Friday afternoon, and his odds could contract further with a big showing at Tampa. The emphatic Remsen (G2) winner in his latest, he rates as the 8-5 morning line favorite for the Davis. Prominent owner Sol Kumin has made his bet already, as it were, by buying a minority interest in the colt from Robert LaPenta. Now he’ll race in the name of LaPenta and one of Kumin’s entities, Madaket Stables.

2. Catholic Boy has an opportunity to respond to the critique of his Remsen. The Jonathan Thomas trainee was visually impressive at Aqueduct, where he was making his dirt debut after three strong efforts on turf. But the Remsen time was unimpressive – 1:52.20 for 1 1/8 miles – and the field was rather iffy outside of runner-up Avery Island, the beaten favorite, who didn't get his preferred trip. Avery Island came back to win the Withers (G3) over the same track and trip, but questions persist about the merit of the Remsen. Vouch, the Remsen third, may be better than he showed that day, as he was coming off a debut win and endured a wide, pace-pressing trip before tiring. He’ll try to turn the tables at Tampa.

If Catholic Boy passes his Tampa test while toting the top weight of 122 pounds against a couple of potentially smart rivals, the Florida Derby (G1) could be next. Yet considering that he began his career on turf, it’s debatable whether he has a surface preference, or if so, which one it is. The More Than Ready colt won his first two on the lawn, including the With Anticipation (G3) at Saratoga, and his close fourth to Aidan O’Brien’s Mendelssohn in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) was honorable off a two-month layoff. Catholic Boy’s dirt versus turf question may not be decided on Saturday, but is worth keeping in the back of your mind as he meets ever stiffer challenges on the dirt.

3. Hollywood Star can take the long-awaited step forward for Dale Romans. Bred to route as a son of Malibu Moon and multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Hollywood Story, it’s a positive sign that he won first up sprinting at Churchill Downs as early as June 28. The $550,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase did well in his stakes debut in the Saratoga Special (G2), rallying off a hot pace to finish best of the rest behind the brilliant Copper Bullet. Hollywood Star encountered a slower tempo in his stretch-out to two turns in the Iroquois (G3), and he got going too late in second. On a substantial class hike for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), he lagged in last early, made a nifty move on the far turn, and reported home sixth. Remember that his preparation for that race was not ideal – a blinker experiment messed up a key work.

Entered in last Saturday’s Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park, Hollywood Star scratched to let stablemate Free Drop Billy carry the flag for Albaugh Family Stables. That turned out to be a shrewd move after Audible jumped up, and a closer wouldn’t have had a chance. Hollywood Star won’t get much in the way of pace help here, but the Tampa surface may play kindlier to him than Gulfstream. He also receives a six-pound weight break from Catholic Boy. Will Hollywood Star be one of those who promises more than he delivers, or will he finally turn the corner here? I’m hoping that the Davis marks his breakthrough.

4. Todd Pletcher’s unbeaten Vino Rosso has plenty of upside. By Curlin and out of a Street Cry half-sister to Commissioner, who nearly won the 2014 Belmont (G1), Vino Rosso stretched out from a seven-furlong Aqueduct maiden to boss overmatched foes in a Tampa allowance. His win over the track is not only a plus because he’s proven over the surface. It actually evoked a memory of 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming’s maiden win. Both turned up on an otherwise quiet winter weekday at Tampa and brought Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez along for the ride. The knock on Vino Rosso is that he hasn’t run very fast so far, but the handsome chestnut appears capable of a lot more as required. Like Hollywood Star, he’s six pounds better off at the weights than Catholic Boy.

5. Flameaway gets a second chance on a fast track. The only Davis runner not nominated to the Triple Crown, the Mark Casse pupil has turned in better efforts in the slop, on synthetic, and turf but flopped in his only fast-track try in the Iroquois. Both trainer and assistant David Carroll cited the kickback as a factor in his poor sixth at Churchill. As a son of Scat Daddy from a turf-oriented family, the jury is very much out on whether he’ll be as effective on dirt, especially in better company. And it’s telling that connections didn’t take the Triple Crown nomination plunge. That said, the Tampa dirt is sometimes described as playing well to turf horses, which may explain his placement.

But Flameaway faces form questions too. Eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf after pressing the pace from post 10, he has to find a way to reverse form with Catholic Boy, and also with Hollywood Star from the Iroquois. Two of Flameaway’s three stakes wins came in races transferred to a sloppy main – the Bourbon (G3) at Keeneland and the Skidmore at Saratoga – and he just held in the Kitten's Joy by controlling a slow pace on the Gulfstream turf. That might be his best gambit here, short of an unexpected cloudburst right before the race.

To help with your handicapping, take a look at the free Sam F. Davis PPs courtesy of Brisnet.

And remember the Sam F. Davis is part of the Derby Double bonus!

Catholic Boy photo courtesy NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Chelsea Durand.