02/15/2017 9:02AM

Road to the Derby: Sam F. Davis analysis

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Tom Keyser
McCraken remained unbeaten by winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

Grade 3, $200,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes; 1 1/16 miles; Tampa Bay Downs; Feb. 11, 2017
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: McCraken, by Ghostzapper
Trainer: Ian Wilkes
Jockey: Brian Hernandez Jr.
Owner: Whitham Thoroughbreds LLC
Beyer Speed Figure: 95

For the first time since Churchill Downs switched to a points system to determine the field for the Kentucky Derby, the Sam Davis offered points to the race, making it even more attractive than in recent years. And it drew a good field, including the one-two finishers from the Kentucky Jockey Club, and the runner-up in the Remsen.

McCRAKEN, the Kentucky Jockey Club winner, remained unbeaten by winning this race, and there is a lot to like about the performance. He earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure, and as outlined in my Kentucky Jockey Club analysis from last fall, his trainer is terrific at pointing for a long-range goal and having his horse peak on the day. McCraken running this well while likely not close to being fully cranked up is quite appealing. And he obviously loves Churchill Downs, where he won all three of his starts at age 2.

In the Sam Davis, McCraken was cleverly guided to the rail by Hernandez heading into the first turn, saved ground to the far turn, was angled off the rail for his rally and wound up about three to four paths wide on the turn, took the lead a furlong out, and drew away while appearing to want to drift in slightly, which Hernandez prevented by putting the whip in his left hand. He had a very clean trip.

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TAPWRIT, who was second, raced toward the inside while mid-pack around the first turn, had to be urged approaching the half-mile pole to hold his position, hugged the rail around the far turn, was angled off the rail entering the lane, could not quicken with McCraken in upper stretch, but kept to his task to get the place. He is much improved since blinkers were added after he finished last in his debut.

STATE OF HONOR, who was third, wore blinkers for the first time. He was sent along from his rail draw to take the lead into the first turn, was a bit keen around that turn, continued to lead to the far turn, turned back bids from FACT FINDING and then WILD SHOT around the final turn and into the lane, continued on well enough to the wire, but could not match the top pair.

Wild Shot, who finished fourth, stalked the pace from the three path around the first turn, never had an opportunity to drop over down the backstretch, was caught four paths wide on the far turn, made an extended run to get on terms with State of Honor in upper stretch, was a little late to change his leads in upper stretch, then appeared to tire in the final 70 yards. He might have needed the race, but as I wrote after the Kentucky Jockey Club, I’m fearful he may be at the outer limits of his comfort level regarding distance.

Fact Finding, who was fifth, got a good trip into the first turn to settle into second behind State of Honor, could not keep up with State of Honor around the far turn, gave way between horses, and faded. This was his first try around two turns. He acted like he wants one turn.

NO DOZING, who was sixth, was terribly disappointing. He raced about three paths wide around the first turn while mid-pack, started to lose ground approaching the far turn, saw McCraken zoom past him to his inside just past the three-furlong pole, ducked down to the rail but still couldn’t get past the tiring Fact Finding through the lane. He is based at Tampa, so he seemingly had the home-court advantage, too.

SIX GUN SALUTE, who was seventh, had no speed and was in front of only KING AND HIS COURT into the first turn, remained well back throughout and only passed the tiring CHANCE OF LUCK in the stretch.

Chance of Luck, who was eighth, broke sharply, drifted out around the first turn while attending the pace, was asked for his best three furlongs out while three paths wide, but was empty by the quarter pole.

King and His Court, who finished last of nine, was badly outrun throughout in his first - and one would imagine last - try on dirt.