Prairie Hawk Could Swoop to Victory in Sam F. Davis Stakes

The $250,000, Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs brings together a full field of 12 aspiring 3-year-olds hoping to earn points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve which may help them enter the Churchill Downs starting gate on the first Saturday in May.

First they must run well Saturday and then likely return next month in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. Leading the Sam F. Davis field in accomplishments is Dubyuhnell, who won the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes in December to close out his 2-year-old campaign. Another stakes winner from last year is Champions Dream, winner of the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes in November, who returned for his 3-year-old debut to finish second in the Pasco Stakes over this track. The Pasco was won by Zydeceaux, who is stretching out to two turns for the first time, as is Champions Dream. Dreaming of Kona is another with stakes credentials, coming off a win in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, a one-turn mile race in which he initially finished second but was moved up when the winner was disqualified. Worthington moves to dirt for the first time off a third-place finish in the Dania Beach Stakes and adds to the depth of the field. Then there’s a quartet of horses with a lot of talent coming into the race off wins. Classic Car Wash and Prairie Hawk both seek their third straight wins after defeating maidens and allowance foes, while Classic Legacy and Notah are stepping up in class off maiden victories and also stretching out to two turns for the first time. Groveland was defeated by Prairie Hawk by a length over Tampa’s main track last month and is another contender. Then there’s Litigate, who finished second in an allowance race following a maiden win in his debut. He’s a horse that could enjoy the added distance that he’ll be trying for the first time Saturday. Laver rounds out the field, having finished fifth of 11 last month in the Mucho Macho Man.

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Main win contenders:

Prairie Hawk was well regarded at odds of 3.10- in his debut last October in a six-furlong sprint, but he faded to sixth of 10 after pressing the pace in second for the first half of the race. Stretched out to two turns for his second career start in December, Prairie Hawk was a much different horse. After rallying and opening up by three lengths entering the stretch, he held the lead to the wire. Four weeks ago on Jan. 13, Prairie Hawk made his third career start, second around two turns and second at Tampa Bay Downs. In the one mile and 40-yard race, he took the lead from the start and was never threatened. His improving pattern of Equibase Speed Figures – from 67 to 84 and then to 91 – suggest he will run another career-best effort Saturday. Before leaving trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.’s base at Gulfstream Park, Prairie Hawk put in a strong half-mile workout (:46.41) and once again gets the services of Tampa Bay Downs-leading jockey Samy Camacho, who rode the colt to his last two wins. As a son of Curlin, there’s little doubt Prairie Hawk can contend in the big races for three year olds, particularly as his dam Princess Ash produced Quip, the winner of the 2018 Tampa Bay Derby.

Litigate is another horse who ships in from Gulfstream Park, this one for Todd Pletcher. The colt won his sprint debut last November with a very strong 92 figure for a 2-year-old, duplicating that effort almost two months later on Jan. 8 when he finished second in a highly rated allowance race. Winner Cyclone Mischief returned in the Holy Bull Stakes last weekend and ran poorly, but Litigate may take another step forward as he tries two turns for the first time. He gets the services of jockey Luis Saez, and he also put in a strong half-mile workout (best of 31 on the day) in preparation for this race.

Groveland must be considered a contender as he was only one length behind Prairie Hawk in that allowance race discussed above, held over this track last month. He has continued to improve since his debut, particularly since he stretched out to two turns for the first time in December, earning an 87 figure in a maiden win which he bettered to 89 last month. Jockey Daniel Centeno got familiar with Groveland in that race and rides back, which is another good sign for a competitive effort.

Worthington has figures as good as the top contenders in this race, particularly the 96 figure he earned on Nov. 26, one race before last. He won that race by 2 ½ lengths under Luis Saez, who chooses to ride Litigate in this race. All four of his career starts to date have been on turf, but this colt has breeding to run just as well on the dirt as his dam’s other two foals are winners in dirt routes and as he is by the young sire Classic Empire, winner of some big stakes races including the 2017 Arkansas Derby. A Race Lens query reveals trainer Mike Maker has a good record (18% wins) moving horses from turf to dirt for stakes, and the colt’s 90 and 96 last two Equibase figures stand up well with the other main contenders.

I am taking a stand against possible betting favorite Dubyuhnell, winner of the Remsen Stakes last December in his final start as a 2-year-old in which he earned a 101 figure. The reasons are many, but the most important are he is giving away physical condition to most of the rest of the field which ran last month, and also that the record of Remsen winners in their 3-year-old debuts is not good. Only Mohayman, who won the 2016 Holy Bull Stakes in his sophomore debut, succeeded in a similar situation, with 10 of the other 11 most recent Remsen winners having poor comebacks in their first starts at 3, with the possible exception of Catholic Boy, who was second in the 2018 Sam F. Davis Stakes.

The rest of the field, with their best  Equibase Speed Figures, is Champions Dream (85), Classic Car Wash (80), Classic Legacy (84), Dreaming of Kona (82), Laver (84), Notah (81) and Zydeceaux (85).

Main win contenders, in probability order:

Prairie Hawk