02/09/2017 1:40PM

McCraken can use Sam F. Davis as launch pad

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McCraken will begins his 3-year-old season in the Sam F. Davis on Saturday.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – McCraken already has shown that he can win a major race at Churchill Downs, and on Saturday, he can prove that he’s deserving of another trip to the Louisville track for the Kentucky Derby on May 6.

McCraken, perfect in three career starts for trainer Ian Wilkes, will kick off his season Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs in the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes. The 1 1/16-mile race drew a field of nine 3-year-olds, and in a change this year, it now offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to its top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 basis. The Sam F. Davis is the key local prep for the biggest race of the Tampa Bay Downs meet, the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 11.

McCraken capped his juvenile campaign with an impressive 1 1/4-length win in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 26, rallying from ninth in a field of 12 to prevail at 4-5 odds. His two prior starts also came in Louisville – a 2 1/2-length maiden win and a 3 3/4-length victory in the $83,470 Street Sense Stakes.

“I’m very happy with him,” Wilkes said. “His works have been just great. I have no qualms about the distance or anything else. The mile and a sixteenth should be fine. Good horses overcome everything, especially when they have the turn of foot he’s got.”

Contention runs deep in the Sam F. Davis, with trainers Mark Casse and Todd Pletcher each sending out two entrants with stakes experience and trainer Arnaud Delacour having entered No Dozing, the runner-up in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in November.

Pletcher has entered Fact Finding, who is 3 for 3, including a seven-length romp in the $75,000 Smooth Air Stakes, and Tapwrit, whose two straight victories include a one-length score in the $75,000 Pulpit Stakes. Both stakes races were run in the slop Dec. 10 at Gulfstream Park.

Casse is represented by King and His Court and State of Honor, who finished first and second in the $184,920 Coronation Futurity at Woodbine in November. King and His Court capped his juvenile season with a win in the $109,137 Display Stakes in December and will be making his first start on dirt after beginning his career with nine starts on Woodbine’s turf and synthetic surfaces. State of Honor tried dirt for the first time Jan. 7 at Gulfstream, finishing second, beaten a head by Sonic Mule, in the $100,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes.

Sam F. Davis (Race 10)

KEY CONTENDERS

McCraken, by Ghostzapper
Beyers: 86-85-67

◗ He’s been training steadily and sharply at Palm Meadows ahead of his sophomore debut, with two bullet five-furlong workouts last month. Regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. has the mount from post 8.

Tapwrit, by Tapit
Beyers: 78-76-36

◗ His win in the Pulpit Stakes was flattered when runner-up Master Plan returned to win the $100,000 males’ division of the OBS Championship last month, making up significant ground on a synthetic surface that strongly favored front-runners.

◗ Pletcher has won the Sam F. Davis six times, including last year with Destin.

Fact Finding, by The Factor
Beyers: 78-76-75

◗ Favored in two of his three starts, he turned in two bullet workouts last month at Palm Beach Downs to signal his readiness for his 3-year-old debut.

No Dozing, by Union Rags
Last 3 Beyers: 82-81-69

◗ He started his career with two wins before two solid efforts in graded stakes and has been training well here.

“It’s been as good as it gets so far,” Delacour said of No Dozing’s preparations for Saturday. “He has developed very well physically, and he’s been breezing well. I’m excited to be able to test him because it’s going to be a very good race, and those are the kind of horses you need to be able to compete with in order to get to the Kentucky Derby.”

Wild Shot, by Trappe Shot
Last 3 Beyers: 84-81-65

◗ He’s fired three consecutive bullet workouts at Payson Park for trainer Rusty Arnold and was solid in graded stakes as a juvenile, finishing second to McCraken in the Kentucky Jockey Club and a creditable third behind 2-year-old male champion Classic Empire in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, where No Dozing was fourth.

“Our horse is magnificent-looking, just beautiful,” Arnold said. “You hope [he’s] one of those that improves [from ages 2 to 3]. He hasn’t won a two-turn race yet, but he’s run really well, and we’re hoping he’s grown up and gotten better. We think we’ve got him ready. He didn’t miss a beat all winter.”

State of Honor, by To Honor and Serve
Last 3 Beyers: 83-71-74

◗ The Beyer from his dirt debut last out is the highest of his career, and he sizzled a half-mile in 47 seconds at Palm Meadows on Feb. 3.

– additional reporting by Marty McGee