Favorite Smiley Sobotka Likes The Distance, But Sam Davis Foes Carry High Hopes On Derby Trail

An all-star cast of jockeys and trainers will take a backseat to 12 talented but inexperienced 3-year-olds Saturday in the 41st running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the first of two “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points races at Tampa Bay Downs.

The Sam F. Davis is one of four stakes on a 12-race Festival Preview Day 41 Presented by Lambholm South card set to begin at 11:50 a.m. Scheduled as the 11th race, it will be preceded (in order) by the Grade 3, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf course; the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, at a mile-and-40-yards on the main track; and the Grade 3, $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes, for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf.

Approximate post time for the Sam F. Davis is 5:02 p.m. There is a carryover pool of $9,057.70 into the Super High-5 wager in the first race.

The Albaugh Family Stables, LLC-owned colt Smiley Sobotka has been established as the 3-1 morning-line favorite for the Sam F. Davis, run at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track. Trained by Dale Romans, Smiley Sobotka will be ridden by Daniel Centeno while breaking from the No. 5 post position.

Smiley Sobotka won at the Sam F. Davis distance when he broke his maiden in October at Keeneland. He finished second at the same distance in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs.

The Sam F. Davis awards points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the first four finishers toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 1 at Churchill Downs.

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and future Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher each have two horses entered in the Sam F. Davis. Mott’s runners are breeder-owner Michael Shanley’s colt Nova Rags, who won the 7-furlong Pasco Stakes here on Jan. 16, and Frank Fletcher Racing Operations’ colt Candy Man Rocket, an eye-popping maiden special weight winner on Jan. 9 at Gulfstream Park.

Nova Rags will again be ridden by Samy Camacho. Junior Alvarado is the pilot on Candy Man Rocket.

Pletcher, who has won the Sam F. Davis a record six times (no other trainer has won it more than twice), will counter with Known Agenda, a St. Elias Stables-owned homebred who finished third on Dec. 5 in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in his most recent start, and Millean, a Jan. 10 maiden claiming winner at Gulfstream Park owned by Donegal Racing.

Velazquez will ride Known Agenda. Roberto Alvarado, Jr., has been named on Millean.

Smiley Sobotka and seven others will vie to keep the Mott and Pletcher-trained sophomores from the winner’s circle, but Mott suggested Friday the biggest surprise in the Sam F. Davis would be a result that winds up surprising hardly anyone.

The race appears that wide-open.

“Both of our horses have been training well, and we’re anxiously awaiting the outcome to see if we have horses good enough to go on and come back for the (Grade 2 Lambholm South) Tampa Bay Derby (on March 6),” Mott said today from his south Florida base. “It’s a big test for both horses, and we have no great expectations. Candy Man Rocket hasn’t been beyond 6 ½ furlongs and Nova Rags hasn’t raced around two turns yet, so they need to be tested to find out how far they want to go.”

At this early stage, there are no true standouts entering the race. The only stakes winner in the field other than Nova Rags is Florida-bred gelding Boca Boy, who captured the restricted Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Florida Sire In Reality Stakes on Sept. 26 at Gulfstream. Antonio Gallardo rides Boca Boy.

Mott, who has also entered 4-year-old filly New York Girl in the Lambholm South Endeavour and Florida-bred Jade Empress in the Suncoast, hopes having won the Pasco here will be an extra advantage for Nova Rags.

“It’s a safe racetrack and it’s a very challenging racetrack,” Mott said. “It’s deep and tiring, and you see some horses that don’t run well on it. So with Nova Rags, it’s a good thing he has that race (the Pasco) over the surface.”

Hidden Stash, who won his last two races as a 2-year-old, both around two turns, will break from the No. 1 post under jockey Hector Diaz, Jr. Among the others, trainer Patrick Biancone, who won last year’s Sam F. Davis with Sole Volante, will attempt a repeat with Lucky Law, and George “Rusty” Arnold, II takes a shot with Runway Magic, to be ridden by Leparoux.

The post Favorite Smiley Sobotka Likes The Distance, But Sam Davis Foes Carry High Hopes On Derby Trail appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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