The portion of the Road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby that runs through Tampa Bay Downs will kick off on Saturday with the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes. For the second straight year, the race offers Kentucky Derby points, with 10 going to the winner, 4 for second, 2 for third, and 1 for fourth. A field of seven is set for the event, which will go off as race 10 on a loaded 12-race card.
The headliner for this year’s edition is Catholic Boy, a winner last time out in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. The Jonathan Thomas-trained colt will be making his 3-year-old debut after posting positive works over the Tampa Bay Downs surface. Catholic Boy started his career with three straight solid turf efforts before switching to the dirt for the Remsen.
His main challenger will come from the Todd Pletcher barn’s Vino Rosso. After breaking his maiden in New York, Pletcher quickly sent the horse to Tampa Bay Downs to win an allowance race. Pletcher’s top jockey, John Velazquez, came to Tampa just to ride the horse in his last start, and he returns again here for the ride. Last week, his barn mate, Audible, took the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes.
The Dale Romans-trained Hollywood Star will also play a factor in the race, as Romans continues to unleash his bevy of Kentucky Derby prospects. Hollywood Star is coming off a sixth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and is showing some major talent in the morning with sharp workouts. Joel Rosario will have the mount.
Local post time for the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes will be 4:52 PM EST. The field from the rail out includes: Navy Armed Guard, Flameaway, Vino Rosso, Septimius Severus, Hollywood Star, Catholic Boy, and Vouch.
#6 Catholic Boy – After three solid races on grass, it was a bit surprising to see Catholic Boy switch to the dirt, but after the Remsen, it was very clear why he had. He stalked the early pace in that race before blowing everyone away down the stretch to win by nearly 5 lengths. With his outside draw, he could very well get the same trip, and you have to love that the Remsen runner-up Avery Island returned last weekend to win the Grade 3 Withers Stakes. This horse should be considered a serious Kentucky Derby candidate, and this will be his first step towards the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
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#3 Vino Rosso – He’s a perfect two-for-two so far and is trained by Todd Plecther, so you have to respect him, even though his races have not been overly exciting. After breaking his maiden by nearly 3 lengths at Aqueduct, he shipped to Tampa Bay Downs and cruised to an easy allowance victory. His experience over the track is a big plus, but his speed figures leave a lot to be desired. However, Pletcher horses can jump up with a massive race at any time. All you have to do is look at last week’s Holy Bull, where Audible improved dramatically to win going away. For that reason, Vino Rosso needs to be on all of your tickets.
#5 Hollywood Star – This Romans trainee has been working out very well for his 2018 debut. His last start was a sixth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which was a race where he dropped way back early, then made up steady ground the whole way around. There have been talks about him possibly being the most talented Derby prospect in the Romans barn, but he lacked maturity. However, if he can put it all together mentally, he’s going to be tough.
#7 Vouch – The Remsen has already had one next-out winner and is likely to have another after this weekend. Catholic Boy is the obvious candidate in this spot, but Vouch is not a horse to take lightly. He was third in the Remsen, beaten 6 1/2 lengths, but he was within 2 lengths of runner-up Avery Island. His connections are no strangers to success at Tampa Bay Downs, and his breeding looks pretty good as far as two turn races are concerned. He should have every chance to hit the board and is likely to set the early pace.
#2 Flameaway – He’s an interesting entry here that will run on dirt for just the second time. In his only other dirt start, he was sixth, beaten 12 1/4 lengths in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes. Since that race, he’s won two of three races on the turf, including an impressive win last time out in the $100,000 Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Gulfstream Park. If trainer Mark Casse is willing to give him another try on the dirt, it’s enough to spark interest. If his odds are right, he could be worth a swing.
#1 Navy Armed Guard – He’s still a maiden, but he seems to be improving with each start. He ran a career-best speed figure in his last start, but this race will be tough for him. His connections have to hope that the 1 1/16-mile distance will improve him even more than the mile and 40 yards did.
#4 Septimius Severus – He fought gamely to break his maiden at Aqueduct on debut before shipping to Gulfstream Park to finish second in an allowance race. However, he was beaten badly by 7 1/4 lengths in that spot and didn’t seem to have much zip. He must improve here while also running two turns for the first time.