Derby Preps Primer: Sam F. Davis Stakes

By Margaret Ransom

Independence Hall – Photo Courtesy of NYRA

In the early runnings of Tampa Bay Downs’ Sam F. Davis (G3), which will be contested Saturday for the 40th time, the race wasn’t really considered a serious one for trainers with legitimate 3-year-olds headed toward the Kentucky Derby (G1) on the first Saturday in May.

All that changed in 2001 when talented and fan-favorite Burning Roma (fourth in the 2000 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, captured the race an then won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), thus establishing himself as a legit graded stakes performer. For his career, Burning Roma ran at the elite level 36 times and earned more than $1.5 million.

A few years later, Bluegrass Cat won the Sam Davis for trainer Todd Pletcher, and the colt wound up second in the 2006 Derby and the Belmont Stakes (G1). Other notable runners in the race include Any Given Saturday, General Quarters, Vinceremos, McCraken, Flameaway, Destin, and Well Defined a year ago. Though no Classic winners have emerged from a win in the Sam Davis, the 1 1/16-mile event has turned into a popular spot for Derby hopefuls. And, of course, it offers Road to the Derby qualifying points of 10-4-2-1 to the top four finishers.

The race was named for the former president of Tampa Bay Downs and one of Tampa’s best-known businessmen, who died in 1993, and started in 1981. It has served as the traditional prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, which will be run March 7. Five winners of the Sam Davis have gone on to win the Tampa Bay Derby — Phantom Jet (1987), Speedy Cure (1991), Marco Bay (1993), Thundering Storm (1996) and Burning Roma (2001).

Pletcher has saddled six winners of this race — Bluegrass Cat, Any Given Saturday (2007), Rule (2010); Brethren (2011); Vinceremos (2014), and Destin, 2016). John Velazquez has been aboard three winners — Bluegrass Cat, Rule and Destin.

Even though the winner of a Triple Crown race has yet to emerge from this race, a good field of eight will assemble, including unbeaten Independence Hall.

The field, with jockeys, trainers, odds, pedigree:

Sam F. Davis Stakes
PP Horse Jockey Trainer Odds Pedigree
1 Ajaaweed Joel Rosario Kiaran McLaughlin 4-1 Curlin-Asiya, by Daaher
2 Sole Volante Luca Panici Patrick Biancone 8-1 Karakontie-Light Blow, by Kingmambo
3 Albert Park Pablo Morales , Michael Stidham 15-1 Street Sense-Indy Five Hundred, by A.P. Indy
4 Independence Hall Jose Ortiz Michael Trombetta 6-5 Constitution-Kalahari Cat, by Cape Town
5 No Getting Over Me Samy Camacho Gerald Bennett 20-1 He’s Had Enough-Lady Cheryl, by Williamstown
6 Premier Star John Velazquez Jorge Navarro 3-1 Tapiture—Letthetigerparty, Hold That Tiger
7 Tiz Rye Time Julien Leparoux Ian Wilkes 20-1 Tiznow-Shanon Nicole, by Majestic Warrior
8 Chapalu Daniel Centeno Arnaud Delacour 8-1 Flatter—Panther Strike, by Black Minnalouche
Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters, Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager. She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several race horse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull as her favorite horse of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, three Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.