01/29/2015 12:54PM

Catalina Red faces test of stamina and class in Sam F. Davis Stakes

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Catalina Red wins the Pasco Stakes on Dec. 27 at Tampa Bay Downs.

It’s a telltale sign when top-class riders such as John Velazquez, Edgar Prado, Rajiv Maragh, Irad Ortiz Jr., and Julien Leparoux show up where they don’t regularly compete.

Those jockeys will be among those on hand Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Fla., where the Sam F. Davis Stakes will be run as one of three stakes on a 12-race card. They will be in from Gulfstream Park, where the program is unusually light for a Saturday.

Because it’s for 3-year-olds, the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis ostensibly is a Kentucky Derby prep. But for the second straight year, it is not on the schedule of points races that determine Derby eligibility, a Churchill Downs decision that Tampa Bay Downs officials have contended is not particularly fair.

Points or no points, the 1 1/16-mile Davis shapes up as a very interesting race, with a nice mix of locals and shippers. Five Tampa-area runners are led by Catalina Red, while a contingent of seven horses from the Miami area is led by Ocean Knight and the uncoupled Todd Pletcher duo of Royal Son and G Five.

:: SAM F. DAVIS: Get PPs, watch Saturday’s card live

Chad Stewart, the trainer of Catalina Red, said the influx of new faces will provide an excellent test for Catalina Red, the winner of a pair of Tampa stakes at shorter distances in December.

“Our horse is pretty versatile,” said Stewart, who is based on a farm in Ocala, Fla. “There’s a lot of speed in there, although my horse has so much natural speed, he’s got to be pretty darn close to the pace.”

Ocean Knight, one of a handful of Derby hopefuls trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, earned a field-high 93 Beyer Speed Figure in winning his first and only start last month over the Aqueduct inner track.

The Sam Davis is carded as the 11th of 12 Saturday races, with post time set for 5:20 p.m. Eastern. Two other stakes directly precede it: the $100,000 Suncoast (race 9) and the Grade 3, $150,000 Endeavour (race 10). TVG has coverage.

Last year, the entire field of eight in the Davis shipped in from the Miami area. Pletcher ran 1-2 with Vinceremos and Harpoon.

As for the Davis being excluded from the Derby points schedule: It was a points race in 2013, the first year for the system, but was removed last year amid a dispute between Tampa and Churchill over simulcast issues.

The Davis comes five weeks before the track’s signature race, the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 7. The Tampa Bay Derby is on the Kentucky Derby points schedule.

:: DRF Live: Get real-time updates and insights from DRF reporters and handicappers on Saturday

KEY CONTENDERS

Catalina Red (Last 3 Beyers: 89-89-80)

◗ He surfaced as a top local 3-year-old with back-to-back wins in the six-furlong Inaugural and seven-furlong Pasco, but now there’s this longer distance and classier opposition. “There’s some stamina on the dam side of his pedigree, so hopefully that manifests itself,” said Stewart.

◗ He comes well drawn on the rail with top local jockey Daniel Centeno retaining the mount.

Ocean Knight (Beyer: 93)

◗ This Stonestreet Stables colt will be getting all sorts of new things thrown at him after that impressive debut: a tough outside post (11), first route, first try against winners, and the ship from Palm Meadows. As a son of Curlin, he’s a very exciting prospect, so this race should provide some direction in regard to his immediate future.


DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 11 Ocean Kinght. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is 20-8-5-3 with a $3.23 ROI over the past five years going sprint to route on dirt following a maiden victory. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

:: Learn more about Formulator | Follow the @DRFFormulator Twitter feed and get free Formulator facts


Royal Son (Last 3 Beyers: 74-69-72)

◗ This WinStar homebred has yet to actually finish first in three starts (he won a maiden race last out via disqualification), but he continues to be well regarded by fans and his connections. He’s well drawn in post 2 with Velazquez up.

Ami’s Flatter (Beyers: 89-76)

◗ This Palm Meadows shipper was a good second at 13-1 behind Bluegrass Singer in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream and is typical of the entire lineup as a colt getting a very demanding test early on the classics trail.

G Five (Last 3 Beyers: 78-59-71)

◗ He once ran for a $25,000 claiming tag, but his recent improvement has been commendable – and this is Pletcher, after all.

My Johnny Be Good (Last 3 Beyers: 88-75-72)

◗ This Casner Racing homebred evidently didn’t beat much in a 14 1/2-length optional-claiming romp last month at Tampa, but a couple of his efforts in the fall suggest notable potential. He’s one of three in here (with Ami’s Flatter and Crittenden) racing without Lasix.


DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 4 Crittenden. Trainer Eoin Harty is 22-6-0-3 with a $3.53 ROI over the past five years going turf to dirt in routes. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 5 Divining Rod. Runners he beat in his Nov. 21 maiden win have gone 6-0-0-0 in their next start, with a top Beyer Speed Figure of 57. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

:: Learn more about Formulator | Follow the @DRFFormulator Twitter feed and get free Formulator facts