Saturday’s Festival Preview Day presented by Lambholm South at Tampa Bay Downs features three stakes—the 29th running of the $150,000 Florida Oaks, the 13th running of the $150,000 Endeavour Stakes (G3), and the 32nd running of the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds with Tampa Bay Derby aspirations.
Saturday’s festivities include an appearance by Steve Cauthen, the legendary Hall of Fame jockey who piloted Florida-bred Affirmed to his 1978 Triple Crown triumph. Cauthen will sign autographs in front of the Tampa Bay Downs gift shop from 1-3 p.m.
The marquee race on the program is the Sam F. Davis Stakes. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won the last two renewals of the Sam Davis with WinStar runners–Brethren last year and Rule in 2010—will send out Ecabroni. The son of Smoke Glacken recently broke his maiden sprinting at Gulfstream Park in his second lifetime start. The St. George Stable homebred is produced from the Unbridled’s Song mare Miss Fury. Javier Castellano will ride.
The tepid 3-1 morning line choice is Reveron. The 3-year-old son of Songandaprayer won the Gulfstream Park Derby last time out over the highly regarded Casual Trick. Owned by Stipa Racing Stable, the colt is trained by Agustin Bezara and will be ridden by Fernando Jara.
State of Play, Team Valor’s War Front colt was perfect heading into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at the end of last season. He broke his maiden at Saratoga and won the With Anticipation Stakes (G2) on the grass at Saratoga in September. He had a bit of a troubled trip in the Breeders’ Cup and finished 12th after prompting the early pace under Ramon Dominguez.
“He’s a pretty stocky, big-boned horse who might look to be on the heavy side, but he is all muscle,” said Heather Craig, H. Graham Motion’s assistant, earlier this week. “I think he looks a lot fitter than he did as a 2-year-old. Tampa Bay Downs is not an easy track to handle, but he has been training great and has handled the dirt better than we could have imagined.”
Craig was aboard State of Play for his first three breezes at Tampa Bay Downs in January before turning the reins over to jockey Luis Garcia, who breezed him Saturday in 48.3 seconds for his final four-furlong workout. Alan Garcia (no relation) will be in to ride State of Play in the Davis.
Although it is his first start on a dirt surface, Craig believes State of Play can handle the switch based on his workouts. Of course, Motion-trained runners are no strangers to successful surface changes: Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby in his first start on dirt.
Prospective won the Pasco Stakes over the track Jan. 14 and stretches back out today for John Oxley and Mark Casse. The son of Malibu Moon captured the Grey Stakes (G3) at Woodbine last year.
Trainer David Fawkes will saddle Florida-bred Burning Time. The Harold Queen homebred most recently finished fourth behind Prospective in the Pasco. The colt won the Foolish Pleasure Stakes at Calder as a 2-year-old.
Kicking off the stakes action is the Florida Oaks, which attracted a field of eight, including the coupled entry of Northern Passion and Dixie Strike for owner Oxley and Casse. The entry has been tabbed as the 5-2 second choice on the morning line in the 1 1/16-mile turf affair.
Northern Passion, by First Samurai, enjoyed a productive season at Woodbine as a juvenile, winning the Natalma Stakes (G3) and placing in the Ontario Debutante. She endured a wide trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and wound up a well-beaten seventh behind subsequent Eclipse champion My Miss Aurelia to close out the year. She makes her seasonal bow in this spot and will be ridden by her regular rider Luis Contreras.
Dixie Strike, Northern Passion’s stablemate, captured the Ontario Lassie at Woodbine in December and also makes her first start of the year here. The daughter of Dixie Union will be ridden by Jose Lezcano.
The 2-1 favorite on the morning line is More Than Love. The daughter of More Than Ready won the Miesque Stakes (G3) at Hollywood Park for trainer John Terranova last November. She is a winner in two of three starts. Castellano has the mount.
Ocala’s Glen Hill Farm will be represented by Customer Base. The daughter of Lemon Drop Kid won the first two starts of her career, but struggled when she tackled stakes competition. She finished 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G2) and was unplaced in the Golden Rod Stakes (G2) on the main track at Churchill Downs. Julien Leparoux is back aboard for trainer Tom Proctor.
Glen Hill Farm’s colors finished second in last year’s edition of the Florida Oaks with Holidaysatthefarm, who was beaten by Dynamic Holiday. Last year was the first renewal of the race to be run on the lawn.
The Endeavour Stakes has lured a competitive field of 10, headed by the likes of Zagora (FR) and Keertana.
Zagora finished second in the Hillsborough Stakes (G3) over the Tampa turf course last season. She went on to hit the board in the Jenny Wiley Stakes (G2) at Keeneland and the New York Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park before capturing the prestigious Diana Stakes (G1) at Saratoga over the summer. She makes her first start of the year in the Endeavour for owner Martin Schwartz and trainer Chad Brown. Castellano, who rode her in the Diana score, is in the irons.
Keertana, from the Proctor barn, won the Louisville Handicap (G3) last May. She hasn’t been seen since that victory, but she shows a steady work tab at Tampa in preparation for today’s test. Keertana owns a win from two starts over the lawn at Tampa.
Jenny’s So Great, by Stonewall Farm Ocala sire Greatness, won the Lightning City Stakes sprinting over the Tampa turf in December. The Jason Servis charge will be ridden by Rosemary Homeister, who was aboard for the Lightning City victory.
Silver Reunion won last year’s Endeavour for trainer H. Graham Motion and owner Brereton C. Jones.
Photo of last year’s Sam Davis winner Brethren courtesy of Tampa Bay Downs/Cooley Photo