What has happened to the Sam F. Davis Stakes? Saturday's race has drawn a field that in the past would have been considered a super field for the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III), for which the Davis has been an obscure prep. Perhaps the presence of so many accomplished horses can be attributed to Gulfstream Park's configuration.
Gulfstream, which has hammered trainers over the head with its mile and an eighth or nothing schedule, is now losing horses to Tampa Bay that normally would have remained in Hallandale, and they are sure to lose additional horses to the Tampa Derby, Rebel (gr. III), and Gotham (gr. III) on March 18 and the Lane's End Stakes March 25. In addition to the nine-furlong distance of the three major 3-year-old stakes and majority of allowance races, trainers are fearful of running horses with outside posts.
One major horse Gulfstream lost is Todd Pletcher's top banana, Bluegrass Cat, who heads the 1 1/16-mile Sam Davis, in which he'll face 11 opponents, including two of Nick Zito's top Derby candidates, Hesanoldsalt and Little Cliff, and Rick Violette's promising Laptop Computer, who is coming off a second to Barbican in a one-mile allowance race.
They'll be facing some formidable local horses, including Pasco Stakes winner, R Loyal Man, who is coming off three straight impressive victories, and Seaside Retreat, winner of three of his four starts in Canada last year, including the Display Stakes. Two stakes winners trying to rebound from sound defeats are Blazing Rate and Pegasusbystorm.
It's difficult to look past Bluegrass Cat, who is the class of the field, and who will be a heavy favorite. But watch out for Hesanoldsalt, who put in a long sustained run before accelerating past the Pletcher-trained Sunriver in a nine-furlong allowance race. He has some tough, hard-knocking horses in his pedigree, most notably his sire Broad Brush and broodmare sire Cox's Ridge. He drew post 5, just inside Bluegrass Cat, while his stablemate, Little Cliff, got stuck out in post 11.
Little Cliff showed great potential winning a maiden race at Keeneland and an allowance race at Churchill Downs before tiring badly in the Aventura Stakes. He's put in a pair of sharp half-mile works since, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him bounce back with a big race if he can get lucky going into the first turn.
Laptop Computer broke his maiden impressively going six furlongs at Aqueduct in December, and then stretched out to a mile, where he charged to a clear lead nearing the head of the stretch after pressing a :45 3/5 half. He went the three-quarters in a strong 1:10 1/5 before getting swallowed up by Barbican.
Pletcher has been giving Bluegrass Cat mostly slow five-furlong breezes, but he did sneak in a bullet work in 1:00 flat, fastest of 54 works at the distance. If he's vulnerable at all, it's because he'll be making his first start in 2 1/2 months over a tricky surface, and Pletcher is not looking for any Herculean effort here.
One intriguing horse is R Loyal Man. Tampa horses are always dangerous over their home track, and this son of More Than Ready
is coming off two huge victories at Tampa and one at Calder. Among those he defeated decisively in the Pasco is Doc Cheney, for whom Zito has had high hopes.
So, the bottom line is that it's Bluegrass Cat's race to lose, but Hesanoldsalt is capable of the upset, with R Loyal Man right in the thick of things. Little Cliff may have to wait for another day if he gets hung out to dry on the first turn.
In other races this weekend, Point Determined should have the field at his mercy in Friday's Golden Gate allowance race. As of this writing, Bobby Frankel was waiting anxiously to see if an allowance race fills on Sunday for his budding star, Latent Heat. Frankel's other big Derby hope, Racketeer, who should show big improvement when he goes two turns, likely will take on Brother Derek in the Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II) March 4.
Already in the books for this week is Point of Impact's victory in a maiden race at Santa Anita, and now it's on to bigger and better things for the son of Point Given
. On Thursday, the two main principals in a one-mile allowance race at Oaklawn – Brilliant and Jolted and Jostled – both were beaten by Well Said. Brilliant ran a good race, taking a sound bump coming out of the gate, and getting caught late by the winner. Jolted and Jostled went five-wide on the first turn and was under a strong ride early on the far turn before retreating.
Monday's Southwest Stakes looks to be a two-horse race between Lawyer Ron and Steppenwolfer. This will be Lawyer Ron's big class test after winning big at Louisiana Downs and Evangeline Downs. If he's as good as he looked in those races, he will stamp himself as a serious Derby contender. He should get tested by Steppenwolfer, who turned in a big move on the turn to win an allowance race at Oaklawn by 4 1/2 lengths on Feb. 3, and a victory over Lawyer Ron would move him way up on everyone's list. Two others expected to run – Mark of Success and Hyte Regency – both were soundly beaten by Lawyer Ron in the Risen Star.