Kentucky Derby Preps: Sam F. Davis Stakes

As the road to the 147th Kentucky Derby rolls along, US Racing looks back at some history of many of the prep races that now offer qualifying points to Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 1.

By Margaret Ransom

In the earliest running’s of Tampa Bay Downs’ $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3), set for its’ 41st edition on Saturday, the race wasn’t typically considered a serious race for trainers with legitimate sophomores headed toward the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.

All that changed, however, in the early 2000s when a talented and fan-favorite runner named Burning Roma, who was fourth in the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), captured the race before going on to win the Tampa Bay Derby and establishing himself as a legit graded stakes performer who ran at the elite level 36 times in his career.

Road to the Derby points

Bluegrass Cat, who was second in the 2006 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1), followed soon after, as did notable names Any Given Saturday, General Quarters, Vinceremos, McCracken, Flameaway, Well Defined and Sole Volante a year ago. Though no classic winners so far have emerged from a win here, the 1 1/16-mile event has turned into a popular spot for Derby hopefuls, especially since it offers valuable Road to the Derby points to the top-four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.

Tampa Bay Derby

This race, which was named for the former president of Tampa Bay Downs and one of Tampa’s best-known businessmen who passed away in 1993, was inaugurated in 1981 and has served as the traditional prep for the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), which has been set for March 6. 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).

Todd Pletcher has saddled six winners of this race (Bluegrass Cat, 2006; Any Given Saturday, 2007; Rule, 2010; Brethren, 2011; Vinceremos, 2-14; and Destin, 2016) while John Velazquez has been aboard three winners, all for Pletcher (Bluegrass Cat, Rule and Destin).

Flameaway in 2019 posted the fastest time in 1:42.44.

And even though the winner of a Triple Crown race has yet to emerge from this race, a good field (11 were entered) will assemble Saturday with the winner hoping to turn that luck around and be a factor in one of the three jewels of the Triple Crown.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, fans and spectators are welcome to attend live racing at Tampa Bay Downs though all patrons are required to wear masks and maintain appropriate social distancing. In addition, all public areas are regularly and routinely sanitized.

Saturday’s morning rain showers are expected to diminish by the afternoon, but will likely pick up again during the late afternoon and into the evening, so a wet track is possible.

The race is carded as the 11th with a post time of 5:02 p.m. ET.

Sam F. Davis Stakes Field

By post position (with riders and trainers in parentheses):

  1. Hidden Stash (Hector Diaz, Jr., Victoria Oliver)
  1. Joe Man Joe (Huber Villa-Gomez. David Fisher)
  1. Known Agenda (John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher)
  1. Millean (Roberto Alvarado, Jr., Todd Pletcher)
  1. Smiley Sobotka (Daniel Centeno, Dale Romans)
  1. Runway Magic (Julien Leparoux, Rusty Arnold)
  1. Boca Boy (Antonio Gallardo, Cheryl Winebaugh)
  1. Nova Rags (Samy Camacho, Bill Mott)
  1. Candy Man Rocket (Junior Alvarado, Bill Mott)
  1. Ricochet (Jesus Castanon, Kelsey Danner)
  1. Lucky Law (Robby Albarado, Patrick Biancone)
  1. Last Investment (Ademar Santos, Stacy Hendry)
  1. Tiz Tact Toe (Alonso Quinonez, Bob Hess, Jr.)