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Midnite Poppa photo courtesy of Tom Cooley Photography

The $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) is the major local prep race for the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) next month. Not only that, the Sam F. Davis is a points race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, the new system which will determine which horses are eligible to enter the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. With each and every point earned as part of this new system being important, the Sam F. Davis takes on added significance for aspiring Derby contenders.

Leading the field for the Sam F. Davis is last month’s Pasco Stakes winner Dynamic Sky, who added blinkers for that race, his first since a sixth-place effort in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Dynamic Sky is coupled in the wagering with stablemate Northern Lion (as they share the same owner and trainer), who is coming into the Sam F. Davis off a visually impressive victory in his most recent race. Another recent winner who could have an impact in the race is Midnite Poppa, the only horse in the field with a win in a two-turn race (like the Sam F. Davis) at Tampa Bay Downs. Divine Ambition was returning from nearly four months off when third in the Pasco, so that finish could be a precursor to a big effort in this situation, while My Name is Michael proved himself competitive at the level when second in the Display Stakes in his most recent effort. Speak Logistics returns to the races following three months off, last seen finishing just one-half length behind Dynamic Sky when seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Falling Sky has won two of three career starts while Lightning Stone finished seventh in the Pasco but has won a pair of two-turn turf races prior to that. Similarly, Balino won a two-turn turf race last month and prior to that won on the main track at Tampa Bay Downs, so he is also familiar with the surface. Silver Day rounds out the field, having finished a non-threatening sixth in the Pasco in his most recent race.

Midnite Poppa started his career last summer at Saratoga Race Course by finishing third in a sprint at the distance of 5 ½ furlongs, then finished third again near the end of September, that time at the distance of seven furlongs. Rested two months, Midnite Poppa returned at the end of December and won nicely while trying two turns for the first time. His career-best 95 Equibase Speed Figure earned in the race was 10 points better than his previous effort. With a win around two turns on the main track at Tampa Bay Downs (something no other horse can claim) and the likelihood to improve in his second race off a layoff, Midnite Poppa has a good chance to post the mild upset and win the Sam F. Davis Stakes, particularly if he improves his speed figure by 10 points once again.

Dynamic Sky also earned a career-best Equibase Speed Figure of 96 in his most recent race, winning the Pasco Stakes on the main track at Tampa and returning to the form that saw him finish second in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland Race Course last fall before a sixth-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Futurity was run at the same 1 1/16 miles as the Sam F. Davis, so there’s little doubt about Dynamic Sky running well at this distance. With a likely improvement off his Pasco effort in his second start off a layoff, Dynamic Sky is another that could prove victorious in this race and stamp himself as one of the favorites for the Tampa Bay Derby next month. 


Dynamic -Sky -Burns

Photo courtesy of Michael Burns/WEG

Northern Lion shares the same owner (John C. Oxley) and trainer (Mark Casse) as Dynamic Sky, so he will be coupled in the wagering, giving bettors two for the price of one. Northern Lion successfully tried two turns for the first time in his most recent race, leading from start to finish and eliminating any chance at victory for the rest of the field after drawing off to win by 5 1/2 lengths. Having improved to a career best 94 speed figure, Northern Lion appears to make the entry doubly tough in the Sam F. Davis. 

Falling Sky was privately purchased following his most recent victory in mid-December at Gulfstream Park. A son of Lion Heart, the same as Northern Lion, Falling Sky has won two of three career races and earned a 94 Equibase Speed Figure in his most recent win, also the same as Northern Lion and well within range of Midnite Poppa and Dynamic Sky. As such, Falling Sky would just need to take to this two-turn trip to run well enough to add his name to horses with potential to continue successfully down the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

The rest of the field (with their best representative) Equibase Speed Figure: Balino (79), Divine Ambition (91), My Name is Michael (101), Lightning Stone (80), Silver Day (87) and Speak Logistics (92).

My Selections:

Midnite Poppa

Dynamic Sky/ Northern Lion

Falling Sky 

$250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3)

Saturday, Race 11, Tampa Bay Downs, 5:23 p.m. ET

1 1/16 miles, 3-year-olds







Silver Day (FLA)

M. Pedroza


William Kaplan


Divine Ambition (KY)

W. Martinez


Darrin Miller


My Name is Michael (KY)

J. Rosario


Bill Mott


Speak Logistics (FLA)

A. Serpa


Eddie Plesa Jr.


Lightning Stone (NY)

D. Coa


William Allyn


Northern Lion (FLA)

P. Husbands


M E Casse


Balino (FLA)

H. Goodwin


Bernell Rhone


Falling Sky (FLA)

L. Saez


John Terranova


Dynamic Sky,  (ONT)

L. Contereras


Mark Casse


Midnite Poppa (KY)

J. Lezcano


Nick Zito


Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

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