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The 40th running of the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) is set for this Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs. The race has drawn eight solid 3-year-olds looking to take the next step towards Kentucky. The winner of the race will earn 10 Kentucky Derby points, with the second-place finisher earning 4, third 2, and fourth 1. The Sam F. Davis is the highlight of a 12-race Saturday card at Tampa Bay Downs and will go off as race 11 with a local post time of 5:29 PM ET.
Independence Hall headlines this year’s field after taking home the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on New Year’s Day. That victory brought his overall record to 3-for-3, including the Nashua Stakes (G3) as a 2-year-old. This horse has been rated very highly since the Nashua, but he still has plenty of proving to do. He’ll break from post 4 with jockey Jose Ortiz aboard for the ride.
The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Ajaaweed will be the favorite’s biggest threat after running a strong closing second last time out in the Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct. The son of Curlin will make his 3-year-old debut here after putting in several solid workouts at Palm Meadows. He’s drawn the rail and Joel Rosario has flown in for the mount.
Speedster Premier Star could be a major factor. The Tapiture colt was a runaway winner on debut at Gulfstream Park before coming back to beat allowance foes by an even bigger margin last time out. He will stretch out to two turns for the first time after winning at 7 furlongs in both prior starts. The Jorge Navarro charge will break from post 6 with John Velazquez piloting.
The full field from the rail out includes Ajaaweed, Sole Volante, Albert Park, Independence Hall, No Getting Over Me, Premier Star, Tiz Rye Time, and Chapalu.
#4 Independence Hall – The big question here is which Independence Hall will we get? The Nashua Stakes (G3)-winning Independence Hall will dust this field with ease, but the Jerome Stakes-winning one will lose at short odds. That’s the danger with playing him to win and is a good reason to not single him in multi-race wagers. He does have a right to improve off of that effort, though, which is why I’m backing him on top – with caution. After the Jerome, I didn’t think that he’d be my pick here, but his recent works suggest that his screws have been tightened for this event.
#1 Ajaaweed – We’ve been waiting for this horse to make his 3-year-old debut ever since he finished second in the Remsen Stakes (G2) last time out at Aqueduct. In that race, he got a little too far behind before making his big rally, and he nearly caught a loose-on-the-lead Shotski. Here, he actually shortens up in distance, which might not suit him quite as well as the 1 1/8-mile Remsen. Still, he figures to be a factor in this spot, especially if he can get some pace to run at when turning for home. This is a good starting point for his 2020 season.
#6 Premier Star – This colt has looked flawless, winning twice at 7 furlongs. Here, he stretches out in distance for the first time while getting John Velazquez as his rider. His breeding suggests that he could be tough going longer, especially at this distance of 1 1/16 miles. He possesses the most early speed in the race and drew outside of the other main speed, Independence Hall. This will give Velazquez plenty of options and should make this horse tough to get by in the stretch.
#2 Sole Volante – Last time out, this colt made his dirt debut in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, finishing a fast-closing third. That effort was good enough to earn him a shot at tougher company here, and he could improve in his second dirt start. His lack of early speed is always going to be a problem, so look for him to come with a big run down the lane. If he gets enough pace, then he could pull off the upset.
#8 Chapalu – This colt makes his dirt debut after winning the Grey Stakes (G3) last time out at Woodbine in wire-to-wire fashion. Before that, he made two starts on turf, finishing second on debut at Laurel Park before winning a maiden special weight at Keeneland. His breeding suggests that he could like the dirt, which makes him even more intriguing, and we already know that he likes going two turns. He seems like the logical longshot play and gets solid local jockey Daniel Centeno aboard for the ride.
#3 Albert Park – Last time out, he finished a well-beaten second in his dirt debut in the local Pasco Stakes. The winner of that race seems like a nice horse, which is a positive sign for his chances, but he’ll need to show more as the waters get deeper.
#5 No Getting Over Me – He was an even more well-beaten third in the Pasco, which won’t be good enough to compete with this group. The stretch out in distance could help him a bit, but he has to improve from a speed figure standpoint.
#7 Tiz Rye Time – After a nice maiden special weight win at second asking, this colt was a well-beaten fourth last time out in a tough allowance event at Gulfstream Park. He’ll need to improve massively off of that effort to have a shot in this race.
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