By Dick Downey
The Downey Profile
The Grade III Sam F. Davis looks like a wide-open affair going in, so let's see if we can winnow out some angles.
Ecabroni, at 7-2, comes from Todd Pletcher's stable at Palm Meadows off a front-running win at Gulfstream. Pletcher is adept at winning the Davis, taking the last two and four of the past six runnings. Javier Castellano travels up from South Florida to ride.
“He’s by Smoke Glacken," Pletcher said earlier this week. "I’m not sure what his optimal distance is going to be, although he handled seven furlongs without any issues, so we’ll kind of see where we are." This doesn't exactly inspire confidence, but at the same time, Pletcher is excellent at placing his horses in races they have a good chance to win.
State of Play was a $13,000 purchase by Team Valor. He's by a $60,000 sire, War Front. It's State of Play's first start on dirt. He breaks from post 1. Ramon Dominguez gets off to ride Alpha in the Withers; Alan Garcia takes over. I have to pass on this 4-1 morning line.
Battle Hardened, a 12-1 morning line, is cross-entered here and in a maiden special weight, the fourth at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. If he shows up in Tampa, that kind of jump in class from trainer Eddie Kenneally should be respected, along with the connections of this son of Giant's Causeway -- he's owned by Michael Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier. They paid $170,000 for him in July 2010. Julien Leparoux is named to ride in Tampa.
Neck 'N Neck, a homebred that registered a career-best speed number in his first start of the year, is 5-1 for trainer Ian Wilkes. He was last seen running second, beaten 5 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream, but the highly-respected Discreet Dancer is the horse that beat him. Tough to pass, impossible to disregard. Jose Lezcano rides again.
Burning Time is a good Florida-bred owned by Harold Queen and trained by David Fawkes, but he reminds me of Fort Loudon in last weekend's Holy Bull. He's aleady raced quite a bit, and his speed figures might not be on the rise. His late running style suggests, however, that he could get a piece of it off his 12-1 morning line, and he gets the services of strong local rider Leandro Goncalves.
Reveron, the Gulfstream Park Derby winner and a $20,000 purchase, is a deserving morning line favorite. We believe his trainer, Augustin Bezara, when he says Reveron should appreciate the deep Tampa surface after training over similar at Calder. But it is of concern that he was hard-used in the GP Derby, and that his first work after that race took 27 days. "I don’t like to push my horses too hard between races," Bezara said about a week ago. Your call; I am not too sure about him.
Prospective, a $250,000 baby, won the Pasco Stakes at Tampa, so he likes the track, and he overcame adversity in that victory -- he lost ground and still won easier than the half-length margin at the wire would indicate. Trainer Mark Casse says he believes Prospective should have been awarded a higher Beyer. But even so, it was a lifetime best Beyer in his first start of the year, and that is a positive. Luis Contreras is back in the irons.
I think maybe Prospective will take over from Ecabroni in the stretch.
After what happened in the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby last year -- two local horses combined to create a $2,194.20 exacta when Brethren faltered -- you can never completely write off the Tampa-based connections in these stakes races. But I can't see anything supporting a tout of Holy Highway or Moroccan Brew. Others also appear to be overmatched.
3. BATTLE HARDENED
4. NECK N' NECK