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All Aboard on the Road to Kentucky

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Ah yes, the fever. Derby Fever strikes earlier for some than others, but for the horseplayer at Canterbury the official first stop arrives on Saturday compliments of Tampa Bay Downs and their Sam F. Davis Stakes. This traditional prep for the Tampa Bay Derby has not exactly been a Kentucky Derby Contender factory, but the names in recent times to take this race have shown up in many more races of consequence both on the Triple Crown trail and beyond. Any Given Saturday, General Quarters, Bluegrass Cat, and Burning Roma are some of the more notable names to take this title in recent times, as well as Super Saver’s younger (and as it turned out, not quite as talented) brother Brethren in 2011. Of course this is an early prep and in reality the result doesn’t mean much for the time being, but there’s money on the line!

The Road to Kentucky contest at Canterbury will start with this race and continues each Saturday up to the Kentucky Derby. Weekly prizes go to the top six point-earners, and the top twenty-five players at the end of the line receive prizes varying from $100 to $2,000. It’s a pretty simple contest: Each Saturday morning  entry cards are distributed until first post of the day’s contest track. Select one horse in each race and put a mythical $20 across the board on it. The return on that investment is your score for that particular race. Repeat as necessary, and you’re set! Entrants must have an MVP card (if you haven’t updated your card, make sure to do so on your next visit to receive points & rewards without interruption) and turn in selections by first post. The venue for each contest date falls in line with the Derby prep schedule this spring, and prep races falling on Saturdays outside of the contest track are used as bonus races. ALL preps taking place either at the contest track or elsewhere are good for double points, so take an extra glance or two at the three year olds if you have the time.

With that in mind, let’s look a little more at the Sam F. Davis:

1. Harpoon

2. Cousin Stephen

3. Noble Cornerstone

One of two Todd Pletcher trainees, Harpoon is the one not entered in another spot at Gulfstream the same day. There does not appear to be an overwhelming amount of pace in the Sam Davis this year, and this colt could very well capitalize. He, like most of his stable, has some pedigree power to him but much of the family’s damage has been done sprinting. However, his dam is a half to Olympio and dad will of course help the cause for this trip. He’s already bucked the trend by breaking his maiden going long. The rail obviously may force his hand early but again, that may not be that bad. Asserting Bear may have a little more early lick with the blinkers going on, but even he’s shown more of a tendency to stalk than go for the jugular. Saez rode the horse that beat Harpoon two back (his stablemate) and promptly hopped aboard this one to win. Pletcher is phenomenal in the stakes ranks at Tampa, hitting at a near 50% clip consistently in the past five years. Even ungraded stakes have been an improvement for a staple barn on the TC trail. They paid a pretty penny for this son of Tapit, and it’s time to see what they’ve got.

Cousin Stephen hails from the Chad Brown barn, who conversely has gone south in the past couple of years when it comes to Tampa overall. His percentage in the past few years has dropped dramatically when shipping into this venue, but this horse of course seems in a different league than a lot that visit from the barn. The cutback in distance should serve as no hindrance, and this one most certainly has more to offer than he showed last time in the stretch. A recurring theme with yours truly is not playing Chad Brown outside of his sandboxes, and while Cousin Stephen may be the best horse in here in the long run I’ll wait until I see some better odds. The popular pick in here seems to be Wesley Ward’s Noble Cornerstone but he’s another one that perhaps is using this race rather than trying to blow the field out. He took a break after a game try around two turns in the Springboard Mile, but that race is coming back more and more suspect as its contestants lose their next races one by one. A couple ran in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn but both tasted defeat, though Walt ran second. For the most part though, the also-rans are continuing to take thrashings in their next start. Harpoon’s maiden breaker isn’t coming back all that great either, but that Cairo Prince sure is OK isn’t he?

Good luck on the first stop and the rest of the way on the Road to Kentucky!

At The Movies
If you saw the film Dallas Buyers Club, did you recognize the man playing the role of the district judge in one of the final scenes? The voice should bring back memories from the Downs’ days.

This blog was written by Canterbury Park Paddock Analyst Angela Hermann.