01/30/2012 2:51PM

Tampa Bay: Sam F. Davis heads day of stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
State of Play, Ramon Dominguez up, wins the With Anticipation.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – A trio of stakes are on tap Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs for Festival Preview Day. The card is topped by the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds that is a prep for the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10.

Also on the Saturday card are the Grade 3, $150,000 Endeavour for fillies and mares on the turf and the $150,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on the turf.

State of Play is slated to make his 3-year-old debut and first start on the dirt in the Sam Davis. State of Play won the Grade 2 With Anticipation over the Saratoga turf last year and subsequently ran 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Like last year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, State of Play is owned by Team Valor International and trained by Graham Motion.

Motion and Team Valor’s managing partner, Barry Irwin, originally had State of Play, a War Front colt, scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut on the turf in a stakes at Gulfstream, but when the colt missed some training because of a fever they opted instead to send him to Tampa and see how he would handle the dirt. State of Play worked a half-mile here Sunday in 48.60 seconds and galloped out in 1:01 and change. The move was the fifth-best of 56 horses working four furlongs that morning.

Another Sam Davis probable, Holy Highway, will be trying to prove he can run with the big dogs in the Davis. Holy Highway has won his last two starts, a maiden-claiming race and an optional claimer, both on the turf here. In his only other start he finished third on the Calder main track in a maiden-claiming race. Trainer Derek Ryan is looking to see if Holy Highway has the talent to follow the path of Musket Man, another Ryan trainee who used the Davis and Tampa Bay Derby as tune-ups to a third-place finish in the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

“I’m not worried about him handling the dirt,” Ryan said. “He ran a good race at Calder in his first out in a race that was run in a pretty good time for maidens, and he’s trained well over the dirt here. The Davis is more about letting him show us if he belongs at the next level. I think there more than a couple of pretty nice 3-year-olds around this year, and to take on the big guys you’re going to have to be a decent kind of horse. If he runs big Saturday, great. If he doesn’t, he’s a Florida-bred and we’ll point for the Sophomore Turf on April 7.”

David Fawkes hasn’t committed Burning Time to the Davis, but his fourth-place finish in the seven-furlong Pasco showed he had talent. Burning Time flew to contention through the turn after trailing the field, swerved outside into the stretch, then seem to lose some momentum before regrouping to show a late burst. If Burning Time learns how to put it all together he could be the real deal.

Prospective, who won the Pasco despite racing wide throughout, may run in the Sam Davis, and so might Reveron, who would be going for his fourth straight win. Neck ‘N Neck, Ravelo’s Boy, Battle Hardened, and Fox Rises are also pointing for the Davis, and trainer Todd Pletcher said he may send a horse.