By J. Keeler Johnson (“Keelerman”) Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Happy February, everyone!
January was a good month on
Unlocking Winners. Victories from Greatest Honour in the Holy Bull (G3) and
Medina Spirit in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) pushed my record for the year to 8-5-1-2
(62.5% winners, 100% in-the-money) with a return on investment of $3.20 for
every $2 wagered. The goal of picking 50% winners in 2021 is still very much
The main race we’ll
highlight this week is the $250,000 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, a 1
1/16-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race awarding 10 qualification points
to the winner. But we’ll also take a quick look at two grass races featuring
up-and-coming turf stars worth following.
Sam F. Davis (G3)
I must admit to feeling déjà
vu when handicapping the Sam F. Davis. The complexion of the field is very
similar to last week’s Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, with #9 Candy Man Rocket (10-1) playing the role of Prime Factor and #3 Known Agenda (6-1) hopefully filling
the shoes of Greatest Honour.
Candy Man Rocket is arguably
the flashiest runner in the Sam F. Davis field, and I expect him to start at
lower than his 10-1 morning line odds. The son of Candy Ride dominated a
six-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream last month, parlaying pace-tracking
tactics into a powerful 9 1/4-length romp. The race came back fast on the Beyer
and Brisnet speed figure scales, stamping the Bill Mott trainee as an exciting
But Candy Man Rocket is
stepping up significantly in class and distance for the Sam F. Davis, just like
Prime Factor in the Holy Bull. And while directly comparing the two isn’t quite
fair—they’re different horses, after all—I’m hesitant to embrace Candy Man
Rocket under very similar circumstances. Keep in mind, 13 of the last 15 Sam F.
Davis winners had previously contested at least one route race, so Candy Man
Rocket will have to defy the trends of history to reach the winner’s circle.
#5 Smiley Sobotka (3-1)
is a logical alternative after battling to a runner-up effort in the 1 1/16-mile
Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last fall. But the form of the Kentucky Jockey Club hasn’t
been flattered by recent performances of horses exiting the race. For example, third-place
finisher Arabian Prince subsequently ran fifth in the Lecomte (G3),
fourth-place runner Swill came back to finish fourth in the Jerome Stakes, and sixth-place
finisher Sittin On Go returned to occupy the same slot in the Holy Bull (G3).
That’s why I’m throwing my
support behind Known Agenda. A son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of
Vanity Hanidcap (G1) winner Byrama, Known Agenda is bred to run long and showed
plenty of potential in three starts for trainer Todd Pletcher last fall.
Known Agenda kicked off his
career in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race at Belmont, where he raced wide before
settling for second behind future Nyquist Stakes winner Highly Motivated. Six
weeks later, Known Agenda stretched out over 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct and ran a
giant race over a slow and tiring track. Locking horns with the above-mentioned
Holy Bull winner Greatest Honour, Known Agenda battled the length of the homestretch
to prevail by a head.
Notably, Known Agenda and
Greatest Honour pulled 21 lengths clear of third-place finisher Overtook, who
reiterated the strength of the race by comfortably winning his next start.
Overtook is actually entered in Saturday’s Withers (G3) at Aqueduct, where he’s
listed as the 6-1 co-fourth choice on the morning line.
Known Agenda’s most recent
effort was a bit less inspiring; he failed to threaten for victory when
finishing third in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen (G2) on Dec. 5 at Aqueduct. But the
Remsen was contested over a sloppy, sealed track, and I got the impression
Known Agenda really didn’t handle the footing while racing inside for much of
the journey. Under the whip on the backstretch, Known Agenda didn’t really pick
up his feet until shifting outside for the stretch drive. At that point, he
finished with interest and managed to improve his Beyer and Brisnet speed
figures even in defeat.
Known Agenda has been
training strongly for his sophomore debut, clocking five furlongs in a bullet
:59 4/5 at Palm Beach Downs two weeks ago. Pletcher has already won the Sam F.
Davis half a dozen times and boasts a strong 20-for-58 (40%) record saddling
three-year-old males at Tampa since 2016, so there’s no reason to think Known
Agenda won’t be primed for a big effort. With Hall of Fame jockey John
Velazquez in the saddle, Known Agenda looks like a formidable win threat at a
Other races of note
One of the undercard stakes
races on Saturday at Tampa is the Tampa
Bay Stakes (G3), a 1 1/16-mile turf test for older horses. A dozen runners
have been entered, and I’m surprised to see #12 Greyes Creek (4-1) isn’t the favorite. If his morning line odds
hold up, I’ll have to rank him as my best bet of the week, because I believe
Greyes Creek is a monster miler in the making.
Some readers might recall how
I dedicated an entire blog post to Greyes Creek in mid-December, expounding on
his many virtues and sensational acceleration. Fortunately, he delivered on my
high expectations in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Gulfstream, sprinting the
final five-sixteenths of a mile in :28.63 to win by a length.
That was hardly the first
time Greyes Creek has displayed a strong turn-of-foot. In an allowance race at
Keeneland last summer, Greyes Creek rocketed the final quarter-mile in :22.31
over a damp course to win by a neck. Even if you’re not completely sold on
Greyes Creek’s talent, you have to respect trainer Chad Brown, who has compiled
a stellar 10-5-4-0 record saddling older males in turf routes at Tampa since
Greyes Creek was actually supposed
to contest the Pegasus World Cup (G1) last month, but he wound up #13 on the
invitation list and wasn’t able to enter. The Tampa Bay Stakes will have to
serve as a consolation prize, and while drawing post 12 is less than ideal—he risks
a wide trip—I’m optimistic Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will work out a winning
journey. When you’re riding a rocket like Greyes Creek, you have options to
Speaking of talented turf
horses, I’m also excited to support #2
Jouster in Race 7 on Sunday at
Gulfstream Park, 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race. Did you see
Jouster’s sensational maiden win at Gulfstream last month? The daughter of
Noble Mission absolutely freaked in her first start on turf, carving out a
steady pace before blazing the final five-sixteenths in :28.13 to trounce her
opposition by 8 3/4 lengths.
Jouster was full of run down
the homestretch, winning under a hand ride with her ears pricked. Even without
giving her absolute best, she hit the finish line in a swift 1:39.92. If Jouster
repeats this performance on Sunday, how can anyone beat her? She looms as the
lone speed horse on paper for hot jockey/trainer duo Luis Saez and Todd
Pletcher, so an uncontested lead should be in the offing. She’ll surely start
at a short price (morning line odds aren’t available yet), but if you’re
looking for a horse to single in multi-race wagers this weekend, Jouster looks
like a great option.
Now it’s your turn! Who do
you like this week?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as “Keelerman”) is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.