By Dick Downey
Talk about a key race. Cousin Stephen finished behind not only Commissioner but also Top Billing last time out. Now he seeks redemption in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
A disappointed Chad Brown said after Cousin Stephen's Jan. 3 fifth-place finish at Gulfstream Park that a post-race scope showed "significant mucus". Not one to make excuses, Brown said that it mattered either "a lot or a little," but clearly Brown expected more than he saw. A couple of nice workouts at Palm Meadows later, Cousin Stephen will test the waters in a grade III stake with no Kentucky Derby points attached. We'll see if this race serves as the springboard to bigger things, as Brown hoped back on Jan. 3.
Despite the mucus, Cousin Stephen finished that 1 1/8-mile allowance optional claiming race in about 37 seconds, beaten only 2 1/2 lengths. If he can repeat the effort, victory is within his grasp, and if he improves.... I like the fact that veteren local jockey Daniel Centeno was lined up for the race, but I don't like it that Javier Castellano is staying at Gulfstream Park. To temper my disappointment, I note that Castellano is riding 10 races including two stakes on Saturday at Hallandale Beach.
Everything else in the field is starting for the first time this year.
Harpoon comes in for Todd Pletcher off a one-mile maiden win at Gulfstream in which he finished in about :25 3/5 while, according to an owner's tweet, not switching leads and looking lost when he got the lead. So he's still learning. A $500,000 Keeneland purchase, Harpoon took four races to break his maiden, finishing second three times and beaten in a couple of those by Cairo Prince and Matterhorn. We know all about Cairo Prince now, and Matterhorn recently returned to the worktab for Pletcher.
Noble Cornerstone is a New York-bred that graduated from racing in restricted company after his debut, and he made a good impression. Second in the Springboard Mile for Wesley Ward, Noble Cornerstone made a good-looking late move to finish right behind winner Louies Flower. He owns the highest Brisnet speed figure in the field. That came in his debut, so if he moves forward from last year's form, look out. Spacing between his last two workouts and race day is a concern, but Ward knows what he's doing.
School on a Hilll would be a longshot special from the barn of Wayne Catalano. One of several that is unraced on dirt, a nod his way could be based on Catalano's horsemanship and a :59.27 (3/11) workout at Gulfstream Park that followed two moves at the track in 1:00.65 (8/48) and 1:00.52 (5/32). School on a Hill is bred to go long, and if he makes a decent showing in the Davis, he might be even better as the distances increase.
Matador, also a synthetic and turf runner so far, has been working well on dirt at Palm Meadows. Mark Casse knows what it takes to win in Tampa, having trained the 2012 Davis runner-up and Tampa Bay Derby winner Prospective. The son of Malibu Moon was making progress with each race last year until he was substantially compromised in the top of the Coronation Futurity stretch won by fellow Davis entry Asserting Bear. Matador's the type that could step forward again.
Canadian trainer Reade Baker is certainly no stranger to winter racing in Florida, and he sends in Asserting Bear, another one that has never competed on dirt. His pedigree isn't noteworthy, and he fetched $50,500 at auction, but he's earned over $230,000. He could, along with Joe Rocco, Jr., be part of the early pace.
Vinceremos is cross-entered in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes for Pletcher. He finished his mile maiden win at Gulfstream Park in about 27 seconds and probably needs to be faster than that to hit the board in this race.
Imaginethatmom, a Calder shipper for Michael Yates, has a lot to prove. His two fast dirt races yielded a second and a win, in that order, and he could step up, but so far his speed figures on both dirt and turf are a cut below several others.
1. COUSIN STEPHEN
2. NOBLE CORNERSTONE
4. ASSERTING BEAR
Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes
Tampa Bay Downs
1 1/16 Mile
Post Time: 4:25 ET
|1||Harpoon (KY)||4-1||L. Saez||C||116||T. Pletcher|
|2||Noble Cornerstone (NY)||7-2||K. Desormeaux||C||116||W. Ward|
|3||Imaginethatmom (FL)||15-1||A. Jaen||G||116||M. Yates|
|4||Vinceremos (KY)||6-1||E. Prado||C||116||T. Pletcher|
|5||Cousin Stephen (KY)||3-1||D. Centeno||C||116||C. Brown|
|6||Asserting Bear (ON)||9-2||J. Rocco Jr.||C||120||R. Baker|
|7||School on a Hill (KY)||12-1||R. Allen Jr.||C||116||W. Catalano|
|8||Matador (ON)||6-1||J. Leparoux||C||120||M. Casse|
All will run with Lasix
Equipment Changes: 6 - Asserting Bear - Blinkers On
Owners: 1 - Let's Go Stable ; 2 - My Meadowview Farm ; 3 - Shadybrook Farm, Inc. ; 4 - WinStar Farm, LLC and Twin Creeks Racing Stables, LLC ; 5 - Klaravich Stables, Inc. and W.H. Lawrence ; 6 - Bear Stables, Ltd. ; 7 - Covello, James, Millennium Farms and West Point Thoroughbreds ; 8 - John C. Oxley
Breeders: 1 - Winchell Thoroughbreds, LLC; 2 - My Meadowview LLC; 3 - Shadybrook Farm Inc; 4 - Machmer Hall; 5 - Brereton C. Jones; 6 - John Carey; 7 - Millennium Farms; 8 - Windhaven Farms Limited