Tampa Bay Downs runs the first of their two Derby prep races on Saturday with the Sam F. Davis, which drew a solid and competitive field of nine, headed by McCracken, winner of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club on Thanksgiving weekend at Churchill Downs.
Let’s take a look at the field.
1 – State of Honor (8-1) – He made a strong off the pace move in the Mucho Macho Man on January 7th at Gulfstream Park, looming up wide at 13-1. It looked like he was going to run right on by Sonic Mule but that one battled back for the win. It was a promising dirt debut (after six starts on either synthetic or turf at Woodbine), but neither Sonic Mule (Swale) nor Talk Logistics (Holy Bull) ran all that well last weekend at Gulfstream. Still, State of Honor has the right to improve second time on dirt, has a good post, and could get a little pace to run into here. He’s certainly in the mix.
2 – King and His Court (8-1) – Named after the famous Eddie Feigner’s traveling softball team (nicely named for the son of Court Vision), he’ll make his dirt debut here. He’ll have to come from well off the pace here and feels like a longshot (note that he is the same price on the morning line as State of Honor but will likely be a much bigger price than that one).
3 – Fact Finding (9-2) – He scratched out of the Holy Bull to run here as the likely pace-setter. He’s run well in all three of his starts, but will have to take a step up to win this race. His seven-length win in the Smooth Air was on a sloppy track against a weak field and he earned a 78 Beyer. He’s trained by Todd Pletcher, so he’ll likely take some money too and because of that he’s one we’ll oppose.
4 – Chance of Luck (15-1) – This Gerald Bennett trainee puts blinkers on as he stretches out for the first time. He figures to be forwardly placed, but will have to significantly improve to be competitive here.
5 – Six Gun Salute (30-1) – He was soundly beaten by Chance of Luck in the Pasco last time and would be a major surprise.
6 – Wild Shot (5-1) – Like McCracken, he comes out of the Kentucky Jockey Club, where he ran very well to be second forcing the strong pace set by eventual Smarty Jones Stakes winner Uncontested. Two starts back, he ran very well in the Grade 1 Breeders Futurity at Keeneland, again on a strong pace and succumbed only late to eventual Breeders Cup winner Classic Empire. He’ll have to sit off Fact Finding but has been able to stalk from up close in other races. In the last five years, in dirt routes on 50-100 day layoffs, Rusty Arnold is (per DRF Formulator) 7-49 with a $3.23 ROI (the ROI is high with two big priced winners, but 20 have been in the money and he seems to be working well at Payson Park).
7 – Tapwrit (8-1) – Another Todd Pletcher trainee, he comes in after a win in the off-the-turf Pulpit at 3-2. This is a much tougher field than what he’s faced so far and a win would be a surprise.
8 – McCracken (2-1) – The likely favorite comes in off a strong win at Churchill in the Kentucky Jockey Club on November 26th. The pace was pretty fast in that race, but he was still the only deep runner to make the superfecta. His two-back race in the Street Sense was also impressive, with sweeping, very wide move in which he beat eventual LeComte Stakes winner Guest Suite. He probably should get some pace here, though his late-running style means he probably needs it. Trainer Ian Wilkes is (per DRF Formulator) 8-61 with a $0.60 ROI in dirt routes on 50-100 day layoffs (3-42 in last three years), with 32 in the money. McCracken is near the top of one many Derby lists, and he should be. He’ll be fun to watch and in the hands of an excellent trainer. The knock today is the expected short price.
9 – No Dozing (4-1) – This Arnaud Delacour trainee comes in off a good second with a very wide trip in the Remsen. In there, he was a bit passively ridden around the first turn when three wide, got going with a four wide move on the far turn, and really kept trying all the way down to the wire and was gaining on the winner, Mo Town, at the finish. He ran ok with another wide trip in the Breeders Futurity, finishing fourth behind Classic Empire, two starts back as well, but drawing the nine post he figures to get stuck out wide again. For what it’s worth, we put the same query into DRF Formulator (50-100 day layoffs in dirt routes) and Delacour is 6-16 with a $2.07 ROI. It’s not a huge sample, and four of the wins were at 6-5 or lower, but 11 of the 16 were in the money as well.
The Pace – Fact Finding should go to the front and Chance of Luck should be tracking him on the stretch-out. If they try to rate that one, Wild Shot should be up close stalking the pace as well. The pace probably won’t be scalding, but it should be fair.
The Play – Our top pick is going to be Wild Shot for the small upset. He should get the jump on both McCracken and No Dozing, but would use all three in multi-race wagers. We’ll also play a trifecta: 6, 9 / 1, 6, 8, 9 / 1, 3, 6, 8, 9