01/31/2013 5:53PM

Tampa Bay Downs: Cotton Pickin tops wide-open 12-horse field in Florida Oaks

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Tom Keyser
Trainer Derek Ryan prepped Cotton Pickin on the dirt for the Florida Oaks, a turf race.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – The $150,000 Florida Oaks, which has been reinstated as a Grade 3 this season, and the Grade 3, $150,000 Endeavour, which was won last season by eventual Eclipse Award-winning turf mare Zagora, are the supporting features on the Tampa Bay Downs Festival Preview Day card Saturday.

Both mile-and-a-sixteenth turf races are interesting affairs and offer attractive wagering possibilities. The feature race is the Grade 3, $200,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds.

The Florida Oaks, which was moved to the turf in 2011, has drawn a full field of 12 and shapes up as a wide-open betting race.

Cotton Pickin had a useful prep for the Florida Oaks when sixth in the seven-furlong Gasparilla on the main track. Two starts back she overcame traffic woes to win an allowance race over the Tampa turf. Her trainer, Derek Ryan, is hoping for a clean trip and a quicker pace for his filly to run at on Saturday.

“She’s had trouble in each of her four turf starts,” Ryan said, “and it’s strange because she’s a dream to handle.”

[SAM F. DAVIS: Get Tampa Bay Downs PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

Ryan said the Gasparilla, in which Cottin Pickin was beaten less than five lengths, was a decent prep, and while it wasn’t over her best surface he feels it served its purpose from a conditioning standpoint,

“It was a race we had to have leading up to this one,” Ryan said. “I would have preferred the turf but she benefited from the race and has come back to work well for this one.

“Now If we can just get a race with some pace in it we’ll be okay. The turf course has been more speed-favoring this winter than I’ve ever seen it, so if they crawl along in the early part of it our chances to win go down.”

Cotton Pickin has won two of her four career turf starts.

Tapicat, one of the main speed horses in Saturday’s race, also figures to be one of the betting favorites. Tapicat, from the barn of Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott, will be going for her third straight win. Tapicat has used her early speed to wire her last two fields, and the Tapit filly looks like the horse to catch in the Oaks.

Rusty Slipper, out of the Graham Motion barn, is undefeated in two local starts. She overcame the far outside post postion going a mile in both of those races.

Mariel N Kathy was head and head for the lead into the final furlong of the Ginger Brew Stakes at Gulfstream Park before weakening to finish fourth in her last start and should be close to the early pace.