Flameaway (inside) and Catholic Boy battle it out in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs

Flameaway (inside) and Catholic Boy battle it out in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs

Joe DiOrio

Versatile Flameaway Looms in Tampa Bay Derby

Sam F. Davis winner has won five races over three different surfaces.

The most effective jokes are often the ones with a grain of truth bubbling beneath. So when trainer Mark Casse cracks that he calls John Oxley's Flameaway "our Seabiscuit," he isn't committing blasphemy against one of racing's legends so much as he's giving a nod to the beyond-his-years versatility displayed by the son of Scat Daddy.

His seven starts have taken the chestnut colt to as many different tracks, and he has produced five wins on three types of surfaces, including a pair of graded stakes victories and a Breeders' Cup outing that was better visually than the result suggests. And with his most recent victory in the Feb. 10 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3), he effectively forced himself into the conversation of contenders on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

For the first time in his young career, Flameaway won't have to adjust to new scenery, as he returns to Tampa Bay Downs March 10 for a start in the $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2). If the hard-trying colt wins again, no one is going to be laughing when his name is mentioned as a legitimate classic contender.

The unflappable Flameaway is set to test his bag of tricks against a field of 10 others entered in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile test, though a couple key contenders are going elsewhere, with grade 1 winner Free Drop Billy and graded stakes winner Enticed cross-entered in the Gotham Stakes (G3) the same day at Aqueduct Racetrack.

While three of his stakes wins have come over dirt surfaces—including an off-the-turf edition of the Dixiana Bourbon Stakes (G3) at Keeneland—he won his debut over the synthetic surface at Woodbine in May of 2017, opened his 2018 campaign with a victory in the Kitten's Joy Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream Park, and was only beaten 3 1/4 lengths while running eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T) in November.

In the Sam F. Davis Stakes, he set a pressured pace, faced a challenge by race favorite and fellow graded stakes winner Catholic Boy at the eighth pole, and fought back to win by a half-length for his fifth victory.

WINCZE HUGHES: Flameaway Turns Back Catholic Boy in Sam F. Davis

"To me, it just shows you how impressive he is, both mentally and physically, to be as good as he (is)," Casse said of Flameaway, who was not among the early Triple Crown nominees but is expected to be included among the late nominees by the March 19 deadline. "I think down the road he'll be a really good stallion prospect for that reason. We have so many sires now that only run three, four times, where this horse has the versatility that has been well documented."

Flameaway is one of several potential classic contenders that have come out of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Catholic Boy and My Boy Jack—fourth and seventh, respectively, in that race—came back to win the Remsen (G2) and Southwest (G3) stakes, while 12th-place finisher Snapper Sinclair was second by a nose in the Risen Star Stakes (G2).

If you are the company you keep, Saturday could bode well for Juvenile Turf runner-up Untamed Domain. The Graham Motion-trained son of Animal Kingdom , who finished third in the Feb. 3 Dania Beach Stakes (G3T), will try dirt for the first time in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Untamed Domain captured the Summer Stakes (G2T) at Woodbine Sept. 17, but has trained on the dirt at both Palm Meadows Training Center and Tampa Bay.

"It's kind of odd, really, but from a talent point of view, it makes you feel good," Motion said of how well the Juvenile Turf contenders have performed in Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) prep races. "But he's got to be able to transfer that form to the dirt, and it remains to be seen if he can do that. I've always worked him on the dirt, and we've always felt he's handled it. This is the right time to try it."

The Todd Pletcher-trained Vino Rosso enters the Tampa Bay Derby off a third-place effort in the Sam F. Davis, while Tiz Mischief will try for his first graded stakes win for trainer Dale Romans after he finished second in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) in November and third during his seasonal bow in the Feb. 3 Holy Bull Stakes (G2).

Entries: Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2)

Tampa Bay Downs, Saturday, March 10, 2018, Race 11

  • Grade II
  • 1 1/16m
  • Dirt
  • $400,000
  • 3 yo
  • 5:20 PM (local)
11Arazi Like Move (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateScott Spieth118Aldana Gonzalez50/1
22Tiz Mischief (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJoel Rosario118Dale L. Romans8/1
33Vino Rosso (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJohn R. Velazquez118Todd A. Pletcher4/1
44Grandpa Knows Best (KY)Julien R. Leparoux118Kenneth G. McPeek30/1
55Flameaway (ON)Keeneland Sales GraduateJose Lezcano120Mark E. Casse3/1
66Enticed (KY)Antonio A. Gallardo122Kiaran P. McLaughlin6/1
77Free Drop Billy (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateUNKNOWN124Dale L. Romans7/2
88World of Trouble (FL)Irad Ortiz, Jr.118Jason Servis5/1
99Untamed Domain (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJose L. Ortiz122H. Graham Motion6/1
1010Quip (KY)Florent Geroux118Rodolphe Brisset20/1
1111Caloric (KY)Alex Gonzalez118Michelle Winters50/1