There is only one race with Derby points this weekend, and that is the $250,000 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday. In this 1 1/16 mile race is that there is going to be a lot of early speed coming from #2 Going for Gold (20/1), #9 Well Defined (8/1), #10 Still Dreaming (15/1), and #3 Knicks Go (5/2). Knicks Go is the lone graded stakes winner in the race and he will have some issues if he must battle a hot pace throughout the race while he is carrying the highest weight. He is also coming out of a disappointing effort, and you must wonder if he will be able to bounce back in just his first start off a short layoff. Knicks Go is the most accomplished in the field and should be able to do well in this race, but there are two other horses to consider that will be better prices. Since Tampa Bay Downs tends to favor horses that are coming from just off the pace, I would look at #6 Kentucky Wildcat (9/2) or #8 So Alive (5/1) to be able to pull off an upset given their improving performances lately and their off the pace running styles. Kentucky Wildcat has been improving with every start he makes and being a son of Tapit he should love the additional distance in this race. Three of the horses he beat in his impressive maiden win have all come back to win, including impressive maiden winner Country House. So Alive comes from the Todd Pletcher barn, and he should not be counted out as he looks for his seventh Sam F. Davis win. He has a versatile running style and won an allowance at this track in his most recent start and has top jockey Javier Castellano in the irons. Good luck to all the connections!
Following a big weekend of racing for the older horses, we now have some of the first big Derby preps of the season on Saturday. In the G2 Holy Bull, we are going to see the sophomore debut of undefeated #8 Maximus Mischief (1/1) who will be cutting back in distance from his gate to wire win in the 1 1/8 mile G2 Remsen. Maximus Mischief is a pacesetter by nature, so unlike his other victories he will not have it easy in this race with so many horses having speed. The horses who have the best chance of getting close to him, or even pulling an upset, would be #6 Mihos (5/2), #2 Federal Case (6/1), or #3 Epic Dreamer (15/1). Mihos has never finished worse than third and has won two races in a row including the Mucho Macho Man Stakes in a one turn mile. The extra distance should help this colt, and his running style of sitting just off the pace is a big advantage in this speed filled race. It’s interesting to note that jockey Jose Ortiz has chosen to ride Maximus Mischief over Mihos. Federal Case has a big chance in this race if he continues the progress he has made in his first two starts, both victories. He won a one turn mile allowance in his most recent appearance by a neck, but it was another 14 lengths back to third place. He will be stretching out to two turns for the first time, but this colt has proven he is determined and willing to fight to the end. If you are willing to throw out his disappointing 6th in the Springboard Mile due to his rough trip, Epic Dreamer could rebound at a big price. He has experience against top competition and won his maiden race in an easy frontrunning fashion at this distance.
In the Withers, #3 Moretti (3/1) is the horse to beat. Running these longer distances for the first time can be a problem for young horses, so he has a big advantage against this field given he easily broke his maiden at this distance. This colt has a lot of talent and has already shown improvement between his first two starts. He will have some competition in this field, mostly from #6 Our Braintrust (6/1) who recently moved to Mark Casse’s barn. This colt has never been worse than second and recently ran second by a single length behind Mind Control in the Jerome to earn Derby points. This will be his first time running around two turns, but his grinding style will be perfectly suited for the added distance. The other horse in this field who already has Derby points is #1 Tax (2/1) who could be competitive in this spot. He ran 3rd to Maximus Mischief and Network Effect in the G2 Remsen, so he has experience against the best of the East Coast division. This colt is bred to run long but also has a lot of speed to work with.
Given the rain expected, #5 Mucho Gusto (8/5) has an advantage in the G2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes since he has experience over a wet track. While he has never raced on it, his breeze at a two year old sale occurred on a wet track and he was impressive enough that his owners and Bob Baffert. The only loss of his career was to stablemate Improbable, so now this will be his chance to shine against softer competition. This colt will have no issues making the lead and could easily take the field wire to wire. While this will be a step up in class for #6 Nolo Contesto (5/2), this colt has a tremendous amount of talent and I think he could make a big move here. He beat a highly regarded maiden last time out and the duo were eight lengths ahead of third place. Gunmetal Gray (9/5) will be breaking from post #4 and looks to improve upon his G3 Sham win. While he did benefit from decent fractions in that race, he was one of few runners to make up ground on the track that day. He has a big closing kick, but he will need to sit closer to the pace here to have the same effect.
We are bringing you a second Handicapper’s Edge this week because the Pegasus deserves it, especially with the addition of the Pegasus Turf event this year. We will start with the dirt $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), which has $4 million just for the winner alone. The key to figuring out this race is to eliminate the horses who are not up to the class level or who will struggle with the 1 1/8-mile distance. For class, right off the bat I would rule out #2 Something Awesome (20/1), #9 Kukulkan (30/1), and #11 Imperative (30/1). When it comes to distance, #7 True Timber (30/1) and #12 Patternrecognition (10/1) look like they may struggle with it. While #5 Accelerate (9/5) is the favorite and has history on his side as every Pegasus winner had also won the Classic, I am going to go with #3 City of Light (5/2) to beat him. City of Light handed Accelerate his only defeat last year when he beat him at this exact distance in the Oaklawn Handicap. City of Light not only gave the best performance of all Breeder’s Cup event with his Dirt Mile win, but he has been beyond impressive in workouts leading up to this race and seems to be in better shape than he did going into the Dirt Mile. Accelerate appeared to slow in the stretch and his rider had to keep after him in his most recent workout, and since the Pacific Classic his winning margins have gotten smaller and smaller. While these two are the headliners of the race, #10 Audible (10/1) and #6 Tom d’Etat (20/1) both could spring an upset or at least hit the board. Audible has never finished out of the money and is two for three at Gulfstream. He is the kind of horse who likes to settle back early and runs late so the projected pace scenario sets up perfectly for him. With running second in his most recent race he will be a price, but I don’t think he should be overlooked. If you toss out his debut on the turf, Tom’s d’Etat has done little wrong and has won six of eight races all at a mile or longer. He is 2-for-2 at the distance and has shown an unmistakable pattern for improvement going into his third start off a layoff.
Now in the inaugural $7 million Pegasus Turf being run at 1 3/16 miles, I think that it is the perfect spot for #2 Yoshida (5/2). This is a great distance for him, and he will be hard to beat if he stays to the form he has all season. If you rule out his Fourstardave performance where he had a clump of dirt in his eye, he has been performing great all year against the best competition. Chad Brown is lethal on the turf, and his runner #7 Bricks and Mortar (5/1) looks like he could step up and challenge. He beat Yoshida back in 2017, and the colt looked better than ever in his return after a year layoff in his December allowance win at Gulfstream. Bricks and Mortar is 2-for-2 at this course and Chad has impressive statistics with horses in second start after a layoff, including 61% in the money. John Sadler is also saddling #9 Catapult (7/2), who is coming off a monster effort to get second in the Breeder’s Cup Mile and is versatile with his running styles so he can stalk or close depending on pace. He will be stretching out to a distance he has never run, but his pedigree shows that shouldn’t be an issue. One long shot to consider would be #8 Delta Prince (15/1) who has finished in the top three in 10 of his 11 starts and has won a graded stakes on turf in the past. He is returning to turf after being 3rd in the G3 Bold Ruler on dirt and will get his blinkers off to hopefully sharpen him up. Good luck to all the contenders!
The Smarty Jones Stakes on Friday will offer the first set of Derby points at Oaklawn Park for the season. The obvious win choice in this field of nine is the #8 Gray Attempt (5/2), who is riding a two-race win streak, including the Sugar Bowl Stakes, while beating quality horses. This colt is going to be the main pace factor in a race that should have a lot of speed, and he could go wire to wire if he does not get a lot of pressure. The only thing this colt must prove is if he can handle the two-turn mile for the first time. Steve Asmussen has two colts in this race that could step up. Long Range Toddy (4/1) will be breaking from post #1 and is entering off a three-race win streak at Remington Park, where he has done all his racing to date. This colt seems to be improving with each start and he is already a stakes winner at a mile after taking the Springboard Mile in his last start. The other Asmussen starter to watch is #7 Bankit (7/2) who has finished first or second in five of his six starts, with his only bad performance coming after breaking through the starting gate before the race. He won a stakes race at a mile by six lengths before surging late from last of 11 to miss second by a nose in the Springboard Mile to Long Range Toddy. Bankit will need to be much closer to the pace since Oaklawn has such a short stretch run for this distance, but has a big chance given the projected hot pace he could run into. There is one other horse that intrigues me, and that is #3 Super Steed (9/2). This colt lost by a head to fellow Smarty Jones contender Boldor (8/1) in his debut but turned the tables and beat him by six lengths in a runaway allowance win in his second start. He was a disappointing fourth as the favorite in the Sugar Bowl Stakes in his most recent start, and it looked like he didn’t fire and make up ground until the end. Given that race was at six furlongs and his pedigree shows he should do better with a longer distance, he could rebound in this mile-long race at a huge price.
Derby points are on the line Saturday in the $100,000 Sham S. (G3) at Santa Anita. The most talked about horse in the field by far is Coliseum (1/1), who will be making his stakes debut after his impressive 6 ¾ length maiden victory in November. Not only did he exceed expectations in that race, but he has continued to impress in his workouts since then. While he does have a lot of talent, he will be taking a step up in class and this will be his first time going two turns. If he can handle those challenges, which Bob Baffert is confident that he can, then this race will be a walk in the park for him and he will absolutely be one of the most watched Derby prospects. There are some other notable runners in this race who do have a bit more experience to rely on than Coliseum does and who have better odds. Gunmetal Gray (5/2) broke him maiden by 6 ¾ lengths in a two-turn mile, just like he will be facing in the Sham. Since then he finished 2nd to Game Winner in the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) and then ran 5th in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile (G1) won by Game Winner. In the Breeder’s Cup, he was way too far back early (12th of 13 runners) but rallied past over half of the field in the late stages of the race. His G1 experience and picking up Mike Smith as a jockey makes this horse one of the top contenders. Rounding out my top three is another gray horse and that is Gray Magician (4/1). He hit the board in his first three races, all were sprints, but he has switch the Peter Miller’s barn and relished running with more distance when he blew away the field by 9 lengths in a two turn mile in his last start. This will be his second start after a short layoff, so this colt has room to improve in the Sham.