Handicappers Debate: 2023 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs

February 10th, 2023

The Road to the Kentucky Derby series is featured in this week’s debate, as handicappers James Scully and Vance Hanson offer different opinions in Saturday’s $250,000 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.

The 1 1/16-mile race will award qualifying points on a 20-8-6-4-2 scale to the top finishers as a Kentucky Derby (G1) qualifier.

James Scully: I’m on #2 Prairie Hawk (6-1), who will make his stakes debut for Saffie Joseph following commendable wins over maiden and entry-level allowance rivals at Tampa Bay Downs. A half-brother to 2018 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner Quip, the Curlin colt looks poised to establish a ground-saving trip before making his move into the stretch.

Who do you like Vance?

Vance Hanson: I’m taking a stab with #3 Classic Legacy (12-1), a half-brother to recent Pegasus World Cup (G1) winner Art Collector. I’m seeing some parallels between Classic Legacy and trainer Bill Mott’s recent Holy Bull (G3) winner Rocket Can. Neither colt made much of an impact in their respective first outings at Saratoga, but both improved noticeably in the fall. While Classic Legacy’s maiden win in the slop at Aqueduct was not especially fast, Mott seems confident in his long-term potential, and a double-digit price is enticing against a field with no overwhelming standout.

Prairie Hawk had the run of the race in his local allowance prep. Do you think he got enough out of it?

JS: Prairie Hawk finished powerfully from just off the pace when breaking his maiden two back, but the race didn’t come back fast. The stalker stepped up in company last time and despite being taken out of his best run style, winding up on the lead by default, Prairie Hawk offered a nice turn of foot into the stretch to surge clear and came home much quicker, registering commendable 92 Speed and 106 Late Pace ratings. He’ll have more to offer Saturday.

I respect the Mott angle, but Classic Legacy appeared to defeat a weak group of future claimers and his Speed figure (91) was probably inflated by the spread-out margins at the finish (huge gaps between top four finishers). Art Collector needed more experience to develop into a quality stakes performer, and perhaps Classic Legacy will be ahead of him, but I’m wondering if you will stick with Classic Legacy moving forward if he loses?

VH: I won’t argue Classic Legacy’s four opponents in that Dec. 3 maiden in the slop were of marginal quality, but I do wonder if he would have asserted himself more over a fast strip, or even later on that card when the surface perhaps became a little more settled.

Whether I “stick” with Classic Legacy beyond the Sam Davis is all dependent on how he runs. Truthfully, the race has had a minimal long-term impact on the Triple Crown, and Classic Legacy might indeed prove a more productive older horse. But I’m not enthralled with the competition Saturday and think he will be competitive with a step forward.

Editor’s Note: We will keep tabs of our handicapper’s picks and provide a scorecard in the coming weeks.