Perhaps it didn’t draw the cream of the crop from this year’s landscape of Kentucky Derby contenders, but the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis is no less interesting for its apparent lack of star power. This prep for next month’s Tampa Bay Derby has drawn an intriguing cast of three-year-olds, all looking to break through into the upper echelon of their division.
Todd Pletcher holds a strong hand, including the morning line favorite in the form of recent maiden winner Gettysburg. The Pace Projector is not predicting a situation that favors any particular running style but does indicate that the stretching-out Morning Fire is likely to dictate terms early.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, No More Chillin (30/1): After easily winning his debut at Thistledown last summer, this gelding has traveled the continent, making stops in Canada and south Florida. Unfortunately, despite the changing venues, he has not been able to get anywhere near the winner’s circle since. His last effort was a step in the right direction, but he’ll need to improve significantly to even hit the board here.
#2, Gettysburg (5/2): This colt looks to give his sire, Pioneerof the Nile, another Derby contender, just one year after his best son, American Pharoah, won that very race on his way to a sweep of the Triple Crown. Gettysburg has a long way to go if he’s going to follow in that one’s footsteps, but there undeniably is talent here. This was a rare Todd Pletcher first-time starter that was not mentally prepared for his debut. He showed marked improvement second time out, making a mild mid-race move to challenge for the lead before flattening out late. However, it was his most recent start that earned him this chance to launch onto the Derby trail. Sharp and professional from the start, he outran thirteen rivals to the first turn, setting an honest pace before drawing off in the late stages. There appears to have been some quality to that field, and he earned a 101 speed figure for the effort, which is the highest number any horse in this race has recorded at a route distance. He may have to rate off a rival today, given the presence of the speedy Morning Fire to his outside, but this colt is improving rapidly and ought not be counted out.
#3, Destin (3/1):
Though not as unprepared for his debut as Gettysburg was, Destin did show some greenness in his first start. He took dirt kindly, but was lugging in off the far turn and didn’t really get on track until very late in the stretch. Given the potential he showed first time out, his return at Gulfstream in December was disappointing. Nevertheless, Pletcher apparently saw enough to keep the faith and give him a shot in the LeComte at the Fair Grounds four weeks ago. Again, Destin showed the negative tendencies that were on display in his debut. He appeared to shy away from the onrushing winner, Mo Tom, in upper stretch, when Julien Leparoux was trying to motivate him into making his own rally. Despite not negotiating the turns effectively, he actually finished up well through the final eighth of a mile. The speed figure of 99 that he earned for the effort is certainly good enough to give him a chance here, and we get the feeling that this full-brother to Creative Cause still has more to offer.
#4, Whatawonderflworld (7/2): We don’t want to be too hard on a horse that comes into this race off three consecutive victories, especially considering that the two runners that are favored over him on the morning line have just one win each to their credit. That said, the hurdles are significant for this New York-bred. He showed good progression through his first three starts, all on turf in state-bred company, culminating with a perfect-trip win going two turns in November. He returned, at the Ocala Training Center, to beat a decent field over the all-weather surface last time. In doing so, he confirmed that stamina was not an issue. The 96 speed figure that he earned is respectable, but it leaves him still a cut below the two Pletcher runners breaking to his inside. Mark Casse does very well across the board, which is why it is somewhat of a concern that he gets just a 52 trainer rating with horses making their initial starts on dirt. To win the race, Whatawonderflworld would have to do more than merely “handle” this new surface. He would have to run the best race of his life over it. This is not impossible, but we won’t wager on the possibility at a short price.
#5, Rafting (7/2): We have watched all of this Graham Motion trainee’s races and found a lot to like. He finished up strongly in his maiden victory, going seven furlongs at Saratoga, hinting that two turns may be his true calling. However, his first route attempt at Keeneland hardly went according to plan, as he became very rank into the first turn, bore out several paths, and rushed up to engage the leaders on the backstretch. Given the eventful early furlongs, it’s no surprise that he had nothing left for the drive. He was much more professional next time out at Gulfstream Park West. After floating out a few paths into the clubhouse turn, he engaged in no further antics while racing on to a workmanlike two-length score. This attractive son of Tapit is bred to handle classic distances and has apparently been working well for this graded stakes debut. The only problem is that he’s yet to run a particularly fast race. We have no doubt that there’s still room for improvement, but we could say the same about a few others that have already recorded higher speed figures. He’s definitely in our play, but to support him on the win end, we would need a bigger price than we’re likely to get.
#6, Morning Fire (4/1):
In some ways, the race revolves around the winner of the local prep for this, the Pasco Stakes. He earned a 113 speed figure for that victory, which, were he able to repeat it at today’s distance, would almost certainly best this field. However, we still think this one has some things to prove. He wasn’t as visually impressive in winning the Pasco as that speed figure would suggest, especially considering that it was basically a merry-go-round race up front. The second place finisher, as well as many other also-rans, had never run anywhere near that fast in prior races, so we do have some concerns about the predictive nature of the number. While Friesan Fire was a dirt router, there is mostly sprint pedigree on the female side of his pedigree, and we just get the feeling that two turns may simply be beyond his scope. The evidence against him is far from concrete, but we still prefer others.
#7, Awesome Slate (15/1): He was no match for Morning Fire in the Pasco last time. The added ground may help him, considering that he owns a route pedigree and his best prior race came going a mile. We respect trainer Brian Lynch, but this seems like a tough assignment.
The primary contenders appear to be Gettysburg (#2), Destin (#3), and Rafting (#5). We’ve already expressed concerns about fair value on Rafting, and we expect that Gettysburg will attract the most play out of Pletcher’s duo.
That suits us perfectly, since we actually prefer DESTIN (#3), who is our top pick. This flashy grey colt is still learning what he’s supposed to be doing out there, but we’re confident that he possesses the ability to beat this field. We would hope for a price at or above his morning line of 3/1.
TRIFECTA: 3 with 2,5 with 2,4,5,6