Racing Roundtable: Sam F. Davis, Suncoast, and Las Virgenes insights

February 13th, 2024

This week, the Racing Roundtable discusses Kentucky Derby and Oaks prep action at Tampa Bay Downs and Santa Anita, including No More Time's win in the Sam F. Davis (G3).

What were your takeaways from the Sam F. Davis?

James Scully: The Sam F. Davis has never produced a Kentucky Derby (G1) winner, and I don’t expect this year’s edition to have any impact. No More Time was hustled to the lead by the first turn, showing the way on a short advantage, and when West Saratoga gave way at the top of the stretch, he was left with a sizable advantage and held to the wire despite tiring late. Agate Road offered a solid run for second, beaten about a length, but he had too much work to do turning for home and has shown a preference for turf. It didn’t appear to be a strong field, and No More Time registered only a 93 Brisnet Speed rating.

Vance Hanson: I very much doubt we saw a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender in it. No More Time attracted plenty of betting steam and was able to hold on to the lead throughout after setting a solid pace, which doesn't exactly speak well of the horses behind him that didn't manage to make more headway in the final quarter-mile. Agate Road was easily second best and probably goes back there to contest the Tampa Bay Derby (G3), though my gut says his future still lies on turf, or perhaps a race like the Jeff Ruby (G3) at Turfway if connections prefer to chase a lucrative race on a synthetic track.

Ashley Anderson: The Sam F. Davis appeared wide open, but ultimately 3-1 post-time favorite No More Time crossed the wire first after setting fast fractions to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths over the late-surging Agate Road. The Not This Time colt is now 2-for-4 lifetime and rebounded from a troubled fifth in the Mucho Macho Man S. in January, but his pedigree may provide more speed than stamina, making his ability to stretch out to classic distances a question mark. Not This Time sired Travers (G1) winner Epicenter and Manhattan (G1) hero Up to the Mark, but Epicenter's damsire is Candy Ride and Up to the Mark's is Ghostzapper. No More Time's damsire is Speightstown, whose daughters have produced mostly top sprinters and milers. 

For me, the greater takeaway from the Sam F. Davis, from a Kentucky Derby perspective, was the performance of Agate Road in his return to dirt. The graded stakes turf winner earned a career-best 91 Brisnet Speed figure with his second-place finish and a 118 Class Rating. Repole Stable also tweeted out after the race that Agate Road is their "Derby sleeper." The Todd Pletcher trainee may be the most formidable Derby challenger of the Pletcher-Repole pairing, especially after Fierceness displayed a lack of consistency with his Holy Bull (G3) third in his three-year-old debut. 

Did we learn anything about the Kentucky Oaks (G1) from the Suncoast or Las Virgenes (G3)?

JS: Kinza improved to 2-for-2 with a two-length tally in the one-mile Las Virgenes at Santa Anita, leading all the way, but she’s not eligible for the Kentucky Oaks. Kopion figures to keep progressing for Richard Mandella following the runner-up finish, and she has the most upside for the Kentucky Oaks from the two stakes.

Power Squeeze stretched her win streak to three with a 2 3/4-length score in the Suncoast, but her Speed ratings declined on the stretch out (84). Odds-on favorite Life Talk never fired, finishing last, and the Suncoast was the slowest North American stakes over the weekend based on Speed ratings.

VH: The Suncoast wound up a slow race from a figure perspective, though Power Squeeze might enjoy some of the longer races in the division, perhaps the Black-Eyed Susan (G2) and maybe the Alabama (G1) if she improves enough. The Las Virgenes was the better race, though runner-up Kopion is the one to take out of it as the winning Kinza is ineligible for the Kentucky Oaks. Kinza was allowed an uncontested lead in a small field, so Kopion didn't quite have things her way in what was her two-turn debut. It was a decent effort, but she looked more sparkling in her earlier sprint starts so I wonder if she'll ultimately prove more formidable at shorter trips than at longer ones like the Kentucky Oaks.

AA: The two Kentucky Oaks prep races were more so helpful in which fillies to eliminate as serious threats for the Oaks in May. Life Talk was a vulnerable 2-5 favorite and broke poorly, failing to factor and ultimately finishing last of six in the one-mile and 40-yard Suncoast. The first-place finisher, Power Squeeze, was the only other stakes winner among the field and saved ground to win by 2 3/4 lengths, but the Race Rating from both the Suncoast and her Cash Run S. win came back light, leaving me to question the quality of competition she has faced thus far. As for the Las Virgenes, Kinza, who is ineligible to compete in the Oaks, went gate to wire, while Santa Ynez (G3) winner Kopion raced in second the entirety of the one-mile event. Of the fillies who raced in Oaks preps this weekend, Kopion likely has the most potential of the ones who are eligible to challenge for the garland of lilies, but she'll need to step forward to compete with the likes of Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) victress Just F Y I or Brad Cox's strong contingent.

What else caught your eye over the weekend?

JS: Steve Asmussen showed off a pair of talented one-turn types over the weekend, Valentine Candy and Booth. A stalking type by Justify, Valentine Candy recorded his third consecutive sprint stakes win at Oaklawn when taking Saturday’s Ozark by 2 1/2 lengths, and Booth opened his three-year-old campaign with a 4 1/4-length romp over allowance rivals on Sunday. Booth, a chestnut son of Mitole, has now captured two of three starts, and he showed the ability to rate successfully for the first time.

Tennessee made it two straight wins over Turfway’s Tapeta when annexing a one-mile event by a length on Saturday night. A $1.2 million son of Justify trained by Brad Cox, the dark bay colt was exiting a hard-fourth maiden triumph mid-January, and Tennessee continued to gain seasoning recording a grinding entry-level allowance win over a determined pacesetter. The Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) on March 23, a major Kentucky Derby qualifier at Turfway that has produced a Kentucky Derby winner (Rich Strike) and runner-up (Two Phil’s) the past two years, looks like the probable target for Tennessee.

Joel Rosario will ride Lecomte (G3) and Gun Runner S. winner Track Phantom over Hall of Fame in Saturday’s Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds. After opting off Track Phantom in December’s Gun Runner, the Kentucky Derby-winning jockey took the mount back for the Lecomte last month, but Rosario also guided Hall of Fame to a 10 1/4-length maiden win on the Lecomte undercard. A $1.4 million son of Gun Runner, Hall of Fame appears to have plenty of promise for Asmussen, and I was surprised to see Rosario stick with Track Phantom.

VH: Saturday's ninth race at Tampa Bay Downs, a maiden turf event for three-year-old fillies, resulted in a dead heat between two first-time starters. Of the two I'm most intrigued by Oversubscribed as a potential long-term prospect. While Belle of Rights was up close throughout pressing a very tepid pace, Oversubscribed had to work a bit to make up the necessary ground, and showed a terrific late kick inside to come on even terms with Belle of Rights at the wire. A Seth Klarman-owned and Chad Brown-trained filly, Oversubscribed is from the first crop of Too Darn Hot, a top European miler who I was fortunate enough to see early in his career. England's top juvenile in 2018, he was retired prematurely after winning the Prix Jean Prat (G1) and Sussex (G1) at three. Too Darn Hot had four Group winners in Europe last year, including top fillies in Ireland and Germany, and it would be no surprise if Oversubscribed makes the grade herself at some point this year.

AA: Six-year-old sprinter Sibelius was victorious in his season debut with a win in the Pelican S., handing him back-to-back victories following his Mr. Prospector (G3) romp in December. The Jeremiah O'Dwyer trainee triumphed in both of these races last year on his way to winning the Golden Shaheen (G1) and will head back to Dubai to defend his title again. Sibelius is in the mix as a top sprinter, but his Speed figures are a bit light right now compared to Speed Boat Beach and Skelly, who just clocked a 104 BRIS figure in the King Cotton on Feb. 3. Last year, Sibelius fell out of form after his Golden Shaheen score, finishing fourth to Gunite in the Aristides, then seventh to The Chosen Vron in the Bing Crosby (G1) and he was fifth to Hoist the Gold in the Phoenix S. (G1). He may not be the top sprinter by the end of the season, but it's nonetheless an impressive feat to defend both his Mr. Prospector and Pelican titles, and he could potentially get the third defense in the Golden Shaheen in March at Meydan.