McCraken wins the Sam F. Davis Stakes (SV Photography)

by Alastair Bull

Reading between the lines of the Sam F. Davis Stakes.

SETTTING:  Most eyes in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) were on the highly-rated classic prospect McCraken. The 2-1 morning line favorite, McCraken was unbeaten in three juvenile starts. These included the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2), in which he defeated Wild Shot, who returned to face him again. Fact Finding was also unbeaten in three starts while there was also interest in No Dozing (second in the G2 Remsen), State of Honor (a close second in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes) and the $1.2 million yearling Tapwrit, winner of the Pulpit Stakes.

FACTORS OF NOTE: McCraken was conceding between two and six pounds to all his opponents courtesy of his grade 2 victory, and was racing for the first time away from Churchill Downs. Fact Finding was unbeaten, but his best performance in terms of speed ratings was on a wet track.

THE RACE: State of Honor set strong fractions in front from Fact Finding and Wild Shot. Tapwrit took a trail, with No Dozing and McCraken settling off the pace. McCraken showed great acceleration from the three-quarter mile mark and swept to the lead in the straight, and was untroubled to win by a length and a half in a track record time for 1-1/16 miles of 1:42.45. Tapwrit had some traffic problems at the top of the stretch and took a while to accelerate but came home strongly for second. State of Honor and Wild Shot were third and fourth, respectively, after being unable to find extra in the stretch. Fact Finding and No Dozing were disappointments.

BETTING: The biggest mover was Fact Finding, in from a morning line price of 9-2 to a starting price of 5-2. McCraken shortened slightly (from 2-1 to a starting price of 3-2), as did No Dozing (in from 4-1 to 7-2). Wild Shot, Tapwrit, and State of Honor all drifted, while there was no interest in King and His Court (out from 8-1 to 50-1) or Chance of Luck (out from 15-1 to 75-1).

CHANGING BETS: This was an indication that betting moves don’t always indicate to punters that they should change their wagers. Though winner McCraken tightened slightly, the next three were all market drifters on the day, while Fact Finding (fifth) and No Dozing (sixth) didn’t figure.

REACTION: “I’ve always said he’s going to take me to (the Kentucky Derby) if he’s good enough, and it’s exciting any time you have a horse with Derby potential” – McCraken’s trainer Ian Wilkes.

PEDIGREE: A Whitham Thoroughbreds homebred, McCraken is by Adena Springs stallion Ghostzapper (Awesome Again), one of the best U.S. racehorses of the new century. His stock have succeeded at a variety of distances, and his best son, 2015 Canadian Horse of the Year Shaman Ghost, proved his stamina and class by winning the 9 furlongs Woodward Stakes (G1) and the 1-1/2 mile Brooklyn Invitational (G2) last year. McCraken’s dam Ivory Empress (Seeking the Gold) was grade 3-placed at six furlongs, and his second dam Madame Pandit won the 6-1/2 furlong Monrovia Handicap (G3).

KENTUCKY DERBY IMPACT: Ten points for winning this race took McCraken to third on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 20 points, 12 behind leader Classic Empire. Wild Shot’s one point for fourth takes him to seven points, and 15th on the leaderboard. Tapwrit (4 points) and State of Honor (2 points) make their first appearances on the leaderboard.

POST RACE: No Dozing’s trainer Arnaud Delacour said his charge seemed fine despite his relatively poor performance. “He just had a bad race, but I don’t know why.”

NEXT START: Wilkes said McCraken is likely to return to the track for the Tampa Bay Derby (G2).  The same race is also possible for Tapwrit, and also possibly No Dozing if he breezes well following his sixth in the Sam F. Davis Stakes.

TRIPLE CROWN TAKEAWAYS: McCraken cemented his place near the top of the Derby market. Though the black type performances of his first two dams were at sprint distances, McCraken’s sire can get horses with stamina and his racing style suggests he has a good chance to stay a mile and a quarter. Tapwrit showed good speed at the finish of the race to raise his Derby hopes and produced the best classic trial outside the winner.

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