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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 12:00 AM


Volume V...Number 3
Friday, January 31, 2014

A Pair Of Stakes Races Worth Following

On Saturday a number of developing Stakes 3-year olds will be on display at two different race tracks and while the Grade III Withers Stakes at Aqueduct will be the only one granting any Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the first through fourth place finishers, one could easily argue that the other could turn out just as impactful.

At Tampa Bay eight sophomores will do battle in the Grade III Sam F Davis, a local prep for the sometimes influential Grade II Tampa Bay Derby.
For an analyst that understands it is never too early to begin breaking down the prospects, Saturday is a much more important day than the usual dearth of early Derby Prep coverage might indicate.

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While the Grade III Withers is attended as one of the early New York Derby prep races that continue through the more important Gotham Stakes and Wood Memorial there is a back story that is just as interesting.

In the short field of six 3-year olds entered, the two ML and likely post time favorites are both New York breds. This might appear as an anomaly to many old-time race track denizens but the early exploits of so-far brilliant Samraat (7-5) and the impressive last out MSW win by Uncle Sigh (9-5), each already a blowout winner around two turns over the Inner Dirt Track are an indication of just how far the New York breeding program has come. In fact, we have long argued on these pages that New York is now a solid third (ahead of California and Maryland) behind Kentucky and Florida when it comes to breeding shed excellence.

That being said, ML favorite Samraat has done nothing wrong in his unbeaten career, winning at three different distances over three different surfaces by an average margin of 8 ½ lengths. And as impressive as he has been he has gone wire-to-wire in all three races, including a 16 length triumph in the restricted 100K Damon Runyon Stakes at a mile and 70 yards in his most recent, he has also been a complete surprise as he has gotten better the farther they’ve gone, despite the fact that his breeding on both sides suggests mile speed at best.

Trained by heady conditioner Richard Violette and barring some unforeseen happening early in the race the son of Noble Causeway will either be the pace setter or be just off the flanks of Uncle Sigh and Street Gent, who leave in that order from the inside two posts.

Samraat will once again be ridden by Jose Ortiz, who has been aboard for all three races and despite getting the stiff class test vs open company that his form to date has demanded, he looks to be the one to beat.

Fellow Empire State colt Uncle Sigh also gets his class test. He will not only be facing open company for the first time but will also be facing winners after breaking his maiden in a rousing Special Weight 14 length tally at a mile and seventy yards. And regardless of the class hurdles one could make an argument that Uncle Sigh might have an even bigger upside than Samratt. As a son of Indian Charlie out of a Pine Bluff mare, the Gary Contessa trainee would be no surprise if he uses his already displayed high cruising speed and moves forward in a hurry.

Should the jump into open company set up a few hurdles that the two New York breds have yet to face, the second and third place finishers from the January 4th Grade II Jerome Stakes over the Inner Dirt Track, Classic Giacnroll and Scotland could easily be battling for top honors.

It is tough to know just where the duo sits right now. If you are a believer that the now sidelined Noble Moon, one of the highly regarded early Kentucky Derby hopefuls and winner of the Jerome is as good as considered than both Giacnroll and Scotland are flattered by association.

Giacnroll appears the further along given his 2 /12 length margin over Scotland in the Jerome and the fact that he has won twice and hit the board in 5 of 6 career starts as well as being multiply stakes placed while the latter, despite his solid effort in the Jerome is still a maiden.

Completing the field are Honorable Judge who won both a maiden and allowance race at Parx sandwiched around a horrible try in the Grade III Iroquois at CD last fall and Street Gent who wanted no part of the grass in his first two career starts but has taken better to the dirt where his second try over the Aqueduct main track resulted in a MSW win at 9 furlongs in his last.

We’ll have a much better idea where each of these six stands in the pecking order after this race, but one thing is certain, one of them will get a leg up on the Kentucky Derby list by earning the 10 points that goes to the winner.


While the Grade III Sam F. Davis is not one of the early 3-year old stakes races to grant qualifying points to the first four finishers it is a very important stepping stone towards a somewhat historically important Grade II Tampa Bat Derby on March 8 and the Kentucky Derby. And to make this race even more important the Tampa bay officials have put up a $1,000,000 bonus for any horse that sweeps the Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Derby and Kentucky Derby.

It is probably doubtful that any of the conditioners who have entered a runner in the Davis are thinking about the bonus as any such sequence is far in the future, but the race has definitely drawn some interesting hopefuls.

Let’s take a look from the rail out.

Harpoon (4-1) - It is not often that one gets to write about a well-regarded Todd Pletcher colt that is making his 3-year old debut following a short break after breaking his maiden vs special weights in his fourth career start. But that is the bio of this son of Tapit, who finally broke through in dominating fashion at Gulfstream on 12/26. The colt has breezed sharply at Palm Meadows since that tally and figures to save considerable ground from his inside post. Key to his three straight second place finishes prior to the win might have been his rivals...he lost to Cairo Prince, last week’s holy Bull winner in career start number two and might have been slowed by blinkers in starts numbers two and three, which were removed in his last. He did look brilliant in the MSW win but it is also worth noting that his last two races at a mile were one turn affairs and in the mile and a sixteenth Davis he’ll be navigating two turns for the first time. It is also worth noting that his debut and his maiden win both came over off surfaces and the colt is definitely bred to handle such going, which might be a consideration on Saturday as they raced over a sloppy track here on Friday

Noble Cornerstone (7-2) - As sharp as this son of Noble Causeway has looked in sweeping the first two races of his career, an easy MSW win in his debut vs restricted NYSB rivals in his career debut at Aqueduct and a neck beaten place in the $100K Springboard Mile at Remington Park, with the latter coming in mid-December, this is his class test. That being said, the gelding has breezed forwardly over the GP main track since arriving a month ago, will have the services of Kent Desormeaux, who rode him in the Springboard and will be saddled by trainer Wesley Ward who as of Thursday had won 4 of the 6 races he’s entered at the meet.

Imaginethatmom (15-1) - The justified longshot has failed to hit the board in his last three, all at long odds and it appears as though trainer Michael Yates is reaching again with this gelded son of Imperialism. He has raced on a fast main track, twice on sloppy main tracks and twice on the turf and his only career win came sprinting on the fast surface at Calder. He is already in over his head and if the track doesn’t dry out by Saturday (they raced over a sloppy main track here on Friday he may be in even deeper.

Vinceremos (6-1) - Another Todd Pletcher runner and another last out MSW winner (in career start number two) the son of Pioneerof The Nile got up late in the mile test after being bumped at the start and steadied at the sixteenth pole on January 4. On the other hand, he needed 27 seconds to finish the last quarter of that mile race at GP and is actually cross-entered in the Hutcheson on the same day (analysis of that race follows below.) Pletcher horses usually step forward but at this point this one appears to be somewhat in Harpoon’s shadow.

Cousin Stephen (3-1)- After finishing behind both the well regarded Commissioner and Top Bling in one of those two turn January 3-year old allowance races that have been recognizable preps of their own in recent years, the Chad Brown trainee will look to regroup from his fifth place finish in that race. The conditioner noted after the race that the son of Proud Citizen showed up post race with considerable mucous in his system so the fact that he was only beaten 2 ½ lengths for it all vs his classy opposition could be a sign of his toughness. His MSW win in career start two (9 furlongs at Aqueduct) prior to the most recent puts him in the top tier in here but he will still have something to prove...and you’ll have to accept him reversing his last at a relatively short price. Also worth noting is that regular rider Javier Castellano remains at GP where he has two stakes mounts and a total of ten on the day. However, Brown could do worse than his engagement of Daniel Centeno, who is winning at a 21% clip at the Tampa Bay meet.

Asserting Bear (9-2) - Just in case the Davis wasn’t quizzical enough this son of Bear’s Kid is one of a pair of Woodbine invaders, along with Matador who is making their south of the border debuts in here, is each multiple stakes placed and stakes winners and in fact beat each other in turn in their last two races. This Reade Baker trained son of Bear’s Kid (Lemon Drop Kid) switched from the turf, where he made his first four career starts and switched to the synthetic main track where he won the Coronation Futurity two back and was beaten three-quarters of a length in the Kingarvie Stakes. He is not deeply bred but so far has earned almost a quarter million dollars and has consistently used good tracking speed that could serve him well at this race track. Joe Rocco, who is known for hustling early takes the mount and that could be another plus if the colt, takes to the surface.

School On A Hill (12-1) - So far in his career the resume supports his 12-1 ML longshot status. He has only a MSW win in his career debut in slow time on the grass at Arlington. Since then he has faced the starter four more times, has never raced on conventional dirt and has a third place finish in a NW2L allowance on grass at CD as his only on the board claim. However, there are some intangibles that could make this guy a surprise on Saturday. First off is his conditioner Wayne Catalano who has always been known to turn horses around quickly, especially following a layoff and over a new surface. The colt’s breeding and his running style to date indicate he’ll appreciate more ground and the question about the new experience on a traditional dirt surface could be allayed by his last three works at GP, a trio of breezes that culminated with a blistering 5 furlongs in :59 1/5 on Tuesday. And it is also noteworthy that Catalano has also engaged the services of the heady veteran rider Ronnie Allen, Jr. who is winning at a 23% clip at the meet.

Matador (6-1) - The other Woodbine shipper, he has also spent his entire career north of the border on turf and synthetic surfaces. If you are looking for connections to success on the Tampa Bay prep road look no further than this guy’s trainer Mark Casse who saddled Prospective to a runner up finish in this race in 2012 followed by a triumph in the Tampa Bay Derby. The son of Malibu Moon is well bred for both class and distance and was improving race by race through his first three, culminating in a win over Asserting Bear in a turf Stakes race two back before getting squeezed at the top of the stretch and eliminated by that one in the Coronation Futurity last out. The colt has been in Florida since mid-December and has worked nothing short of brilliantly 6 times over the Palm Meadows training track in drills spaced 5-7 days apart that culminated in a 5 furlong best of 17 bullet in 1:00 this past Saturday. Julien Leparoux takes the assignment.

The Sam F. Davis is a bettor’s delight...a competitive field of eight that should see the money well spread out on both lateral and horizontal wagers, therein ensuring solid value.


Honor Code, one of the leading contenders on the early Kentucky Derby contender list has had his preparations set back a bit by bruising to his rear ankles. Trainer Shug McGaughey said it isn’t serious but the son of A.P. Indy, who stepped into the limelight with a win in the Grade II Remsen last fall but hasn’t raced since will now miss what was to be his 3-year old debut in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Not one to rush young horses, McGaughey will likely send out his equally promising youngster Top Billing in the FOY instead.

Also of note regarding promising Derby contenders, in what follows a trend in recent years of having lightly raced horses run in the Kentucky Derby, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin will likely bypass the $400K Fountain Of Youth as the next start for brilliant Holy Bull Stakes winner and Remsen runner up Cairo Prince and train the son of Pioneerof The Nile up to the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby.

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