02/13/2010 12:00AM

Uptowncharlybrown's Derby chase is on

Don Haines/Tom Cooley
Uptowncharlybrown will make his graded stakes debut in Saturday's Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes.

Rule all but earned himself a spot in this year's Kentucky Derby field when closing out his 2-year-old campaign with a victory in the Grade 3, $750,000 Delta Jackpot. Uptowncharlybrown, on the other hand, finds himself on the opposite end of the spectrum, with only two races under his belt and no graded stakes earnings in his pocket.

The yin and the yang on this year's Kentucky Derby trail will come together Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, where Rule and Uptowncharlybrown are the ones to beat in the Grade 3, $225,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the main event on a card that also includes the for fillies and mares on the turf.

Trainer Alan Seewald is hoping to use the 1 1/16-mile race as a launching pad toward a possible Derby run for Uptowncharlybrown, who has won his first two career starts by a combined 15 lengths. Both victories came at Tampa, including a six-length tally in the seven-furlong Pasco on Jan. 16.

"This race really means a lot to us," said Seewald, who trains Uptowncharlybrown for the Fantasy Lane Stable. "It's a perfect stepping-stone for him going into the Tampa Bay Derby and it's most important that he runs well and gets a lot out of the race. If he happens to win, all the better."

Seewald knows he's giving a lot away to a more seasoned horse like Rule, especially considering his colt has yet to run beyond seven furlongs.

"I really wish I had a two-turn race under his belt, but I didn't have time," Seewald said. "He's taking a lot on making the third start of his life in seven weeks. It's a big jump he's trying to accomplish. But he's very rateable and has all the makings of a horse who will run all day. One thing he does have in his favor is two races over this track, although even that's no replacement for the experience some of the others have."

Rule closed his 2-year-old campaign with three consecutive wire-to-wire victories for trainer Todd Pletcher and WinStar Farm, including a game neck decision in the Delta Jackpot for which he received $450,000 in graded earnings. That should be more than enough to qualify him to compete in the Kentucky Derby if the field overfills.

Rule, who will carry high weight of 122 pounds, drew the rail and should again prove the one to catch under regular rider John Velazquez.

"Obviously by already having enough graded earnings, we don't have to push as much and we've got a margin for error should something happen where he doesn't run well in one of these preps," Pletcher said. "It certainly takes the pressure off having to win. What we're looking for here is a good comeback without him overdoing it while gradually building him up for a peak performance, hopefully, on Derby Day."

Middle of the Nite also looms a major player in the Sam Davis. He gave another of Pletcher's highly regarded 3-year-olds, Eskendereya, a run for his money before fading to finish third when stretching out to a mile on Jan. 7.

Schoolyard Dreams, who already owns a pair of wins around two turns, will race in blinkers for the first time Saturday.