Road to the Kentucky Derby: Sam Davis Stakes, Withers Stakes, El Camino Real Derby
Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday holds its first Kentucky Derby points race of the year, one of three prep races on this week’s calendar.
The Sam F. Davis Stakes drew a robust field of 12, including the highly-regarded Dubyuhnell. The race winner receives 20 Derby qualifying points, with 8-6-4-2 points awarded for second through fifth place. That’s the identical points structure as the Withers Stakes, which will be run on Saturday after Aqueduct postponed last week’s card because of extreme cold and windy conditions in the New York area.
The final Derby points race of the week is the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, which offers a 10-4-3-2-1 format. The is the lone Derby points race offered at the Northern California track.
The stakes go up next week with the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds, the first 100-point race of the year, 50 awarded to the winner.
The road to the Derby began in September 2022 and continues through April 15. The top 20 point qualifiers earn automatic entry into the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
Sam F. Davis Stakes
Date: Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023
Track: Tampa Bay Downs, Tampa, Florida
Distance: 1 1/16 mile
Sam F. Davis Stakes Analysis
A full, competitive field is entered in the Sam F. Davis, the local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, the track’s signature race of the year.
Dubyuhnell (pronounced W-H-N-L) will be the clear betting favorite after winning the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on Dec. 3, along with 10 Derby points. A $400,000 purchase, the chestnut colt is a sibling to eight winners and has produced solid speed figures.
The race includes three other stakes winners: Champions Dream (won Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct), Dreaming of Kona (Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park) and Zydeceaux (Pasco at Tampa Bay Downs). In addition, long shot Worthington was a strong third in the Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park and makes his first start on dirt after four solid turf efforts for top trainer Mike Maker.
Sam F. Davis Stakes Selections
1. It isn’t often you get generous odds on a Todd Pletcher-trained horse at Tampa Bay Downs, but Litigate is an intriguing price play. He broke his maiden first time out at Aqueduct and followed that up with a solid second in a Gulfstream Park allowance race. Litigate has the look of an improving horse with plenty of upside and can rally from slightly off the pace at an attractive price under jockey Luis Saez, who is aboard for the first time.
2. Hopes are high for morning-line favorite Dubyuhnell, who has not raced since winning the Remsen. He’s 2-for-3 lifetime, the lone loss a fourth-place finish behind Instant Coffee, who sits second on the Derby points leaderboard. It should be noted that both of Dubyuhnell’s victories were on sloppy tracks. In a race with several potential win contenders, it’s arguably worth taking a shot against the low-priced favorite, who is coming off a nine-week layoff.
3. Groveland moves up into stakes company for the first time and is worth a look at double-digit odds. Local campaigner has a win, second and third in his last three starts at Tampa and has a versatile running style. Will need to take another step forward.
Sam F. Davis Stakes Betting Strategy
Litigate across the board and first and second in exotic wagers with Dubyuhnell, Groveland and perhaps Worthington. Prairie Hawk and Champions Dream are also useable underneath on deep exotic tickets. With a handful of contenders and several live long shots in the field, winning trifecta players could be well-rewarded even if favored Dubyuhnell wins.
Date: Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023
Track: Aqueduct, Queens, New York
Distance: 1 1/8 mile
Withers Stakes Analysis
This race was redrawn after its postponement last week and gained an additional entry in Jungfrau, who won for the first time on Dec. 31 when moved up via disqualification at Gulfstream Park.
Morning-line favorite Arctic Arrogance has already been tested at the Withers’ 1 1/8-mile distance, finishing second in the Remsen at Aqueduct. He also finished second in the Jerome Stakes and is 13th on the Derby points leaderboard. Two other horses in this race are coming out of the Jerome: General Banker finished a non-threatening third; Andiamo a Firenze was another six lengths back in fifth.
Once a prominent race for 3-year-olds, the Withers has undergone several purse, distance and calendar changes over the years. Horses trained by Chad Brown won the Withers the past two years, but neither made it to the Kentucky Derby (2022 winner Early Voting won the Preakness) and Brown does not have a horse in the Withers this year.
Withers Stakes Selections
1. Hit Show is one of the most lightly-raced horses in the field, but also perhaps the most talented. The gray colt has two wins in three lifetime starts and is trying stakes company for the first time. Hit Show was scratched out of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park two weeks ago and finds a less imposing field here. The late-running colt has already raced twice around two turns and should appreciate the Withers’ extra distance.
2. With two wins and three seconds in five lifetime starts, Arctic Arrogance is a model of consistency. He always shows up and can win on the lead or from just off the pace. But he had no excuses in his last two runner-up finishes. Trainer Linda Rice hopes adding blinkers makes a difference this time.
3. General Banker finished seven lengths behind Arctic Arrogance in the Jerome and there’s no reason to believe he can make up that ground. His lone win in nine career starts was on a sloppy track.
Withers Stakes Betting Strategy
Win bets on Hit Show. Cold exacta of Hit Show over Arctic Arrogance. Trifecta players can key Hit Show on top and add long shots Prove Right and Ninetyprcentmaddie underneath.
El Camino Real Derby
Date: Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023
Track: Golden Gate Fields, Albany, California
Distance: 1 1/8 mile (synthetic track)
* Gambling.com odds
El Camino Real Derby Analysis
Though the El Camino Real Derby offers relatively few Kentucky Derby points, it’s not a race without Triple Crown importance. The winner receives a free berth (all expenses paid) into the Preakness, the second jewel of the Triple Crown. In 2020, Rombauer took that exact path and won the Preakness.
The El Camino Real is one of the few Derby preps run on a synthetic racing surface, as opposed to the dirt surface of most other tracks, including Churchill Downs.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who is dominating the Southern California prep races, has shipped two horses north for the El Camino Real. Neither Gilmore or Nullarbor are eligible to receive Derby points in this race because of Baffert’s suspension from Churchill Downs.
El Camino Real Derby Selections
1. Passarando has been facing tougher competition and is the only stakes winner in the field. Gelding has three wins and two seconds in five starts on the Golden Gate synthetic surface. Race appears to have plenty of early pace and Passarando’s come-from-behind style should suit him well in this spot. Attempting the longest distance of career, but that’s true for entire field.
2. Gilmore is yet another potentially strong 3-year-old from the deep Bob Baffert barn. Gray colt broke his maiden at 1-5 odds at Los Alamitos in second career start on Dec. 10 and has been working steadily since then. Baffert won this race last year with Blackadder.
3. Chase the Chaos was second to Passarando in the Gold Rush Stakes on Dec. 3, beaten just over a length. He then crushed an allowance field in his next start. Never off the board in five starts, he’s capable of winning this.
El Camino Real Betting Strategy
Win-place bets on Passarando. Key Passarando on top of exotics over Gilmore, Chase the Chaos and Happy Does.
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