McCraken the one to beat but No Dozing the likely value in Sam F. Davis

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

February 8th, 2017

I'm on record being a fan and supporter of McCraken in his quest to win this year's Kentucky Derby (G1), thus I hope he runs well in Saturday's $250,000 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. He'll be the favorite in the 1 1/16-mile race, which awards 10 Derby qualifying points to the winner, but in no sense should he be, or will be, an overwhelming favorite like Classic Empire was a week ago in the Holy Bull (G2).

The son of Ghostzapper has not made a mistake in three starts to date, winning all of them at Churchill Downs, including the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). It shouldn't come as a surprise to see the colt reappear at Tampa for his three-year-old debut. Trainer Ian Wilkes was an assistant to Carl Nafzger when juvenile champion Street Sense, who also had winning experience at Churchill, kicked off his ultimately successful march to the 2007 Derby by winning the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) first up.

If Wilkes follows the Nafzger playbook, the goal will be to have McCraken "peak" on Derby Day itself. Recall that Street Sense, after winning the Tampa Bay Derby, turned in a solid-but-losing effort in the Blue Grass (G1) over the Keeneland Polytrack in his final Derby prep. Unless McCraken is that good and remains undefeated all the way to the first Saturday in May, and he might be, don't be surprised if he suffers an unexpected setback (i.e. a loss).

Wild Shot, a strong second to McCraken in the Kentucky Jockey Club, also makes his three-year-old debut in the Davis. That colt has tactical foot and should be prominent early while McCraken will attempt to mow them all down with a late rally from well back. But I'm more interested to see how McCraken fares against No Dozing from the Arnaud Delacour barn.

Laurel maiden graduates like Irish War Cry and El Areeb have already made a serious impact early in this Derby prep season, and No Dozing is also a member of that Maryland diploma mill. Although it was a tough ask stretching out from that six-furlong race to 1 1/16 miles in the Breeders' Futurity (G1), No Dozing acquitted himself well finishing fourth of 12, four lengths in back of Classic Empire and only a head behind Wild Shot, despite early trouble.

While Wild Shot was chasing McCraken at Churchill on Thanksgiving Saturday, No Dozing was up in New York rallying to finish a clear second to Mo Town in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct over 1 1/8 miles, attempting to gain more ground off of a slow pace than the winner. By Belmont S. (G1) winner Union Rags, No Dozing doesn't figure to have much trouble as the distances increase.

From a BRIS Speed rating perspective, there isn't much separating McCraken (83-94-93 in last 3) and No Dozing (92-89-98), and one suspects No Dozing will be a much better price on Saturday. Helping the cause of both colts will be a pace that has the potential to be lively with Fact Finding and Chance of Luck in the mix, followed closely by Wild Shot.

At first glance a short time following the Sam F. Davis draw, McCraken is the the better horse of the two going in, but No Dozing is the probable value. Thankfully, I have both going for me in WinStar's Fantasy Derby contest.

(Coady Photography)