Handicappers can pick and choose from a diverse menu of stakes across the country Feb. 6, highlighted by a pair of qualifiers to the Kentucky Derby Presented By Woodford Reserve (G1)–the Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct Racetrack and the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.
It’s “Festival Preview Day” at Tampa Bay, where three stakes precede the Sam Davis, notably the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes, a qualifier to the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1), and the Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes (G3) for filly-and-mare grass runners.
Out at Santa Anita Park, there are four graded stakes headed by the San Vicente Stakes (G2) and Las Virgenes Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds. The Rainbow 6, which featured a carryover of $843,235 heading into the Feb. 5 card, will have a mandatory payout Saturday.
The long and short of it at Gulfstream Park are a pair of $100,000 stakes for turf mares, the Suwanee River Stakes (G3T) at 1 1/8 miles and the Ladies’ Turf Sprint at five furlongs.
We’re focusing on South Florida, where there is a 40% chance of scattered showers and storms Saturday afternoon, so keep an eye on the sky.
Suwanee River (GP, race 6, 2:36 ET): La Signare (3) is going to be heavily favored, and deservedly so. She has an edge on class, speed, experience at the distance, and comes in fresh for Brendan Walsh, who recently sent out Zofelle to win the Marshua’s River Stakes (G3T) off a June-to-January layoff. What’s more, she is reuniting with Tyler Gaffalione, who was up for a win in the Sand Springs Stakes on this course last March.
Great Island (2) loses Gaffalione to the favorite, but figures as a clear second choice picking up three-time Eclipse Award winner Irad Ortiz Jr. So far, the only fillies to finish in front of her are Mean Mary, who subsequently won three graded stakes in a row, and Always Shopping, who captured the La Prevoyante Stakes (G3T) last month.
All that being said, it’s not as if either one strikes fear in the hearts of rival connections. La Signare has won just once since June 2018, and Great Island is a sparingly raced 5-year-old with just four lifetime starts.
Logic N Reason (4) is cross-entered in the Endeavour, and we’re hoping she opts for this spot because she has a good chance to control the pace. The Declaration of War filly has won two of her last three and could have a tactical advantage.
A — 4
B — 2, 3
Suncoast (Tam, race 9, 4:02 ET): Not much separates Feeling Mischief (2), Honorifique (5), and Gulf Coast (7), the first three choices in the wagering. Feeling Mischief beat Gulf Coast in the Sandpiper going six furlongs, but could only manage a third-place finish as the 11-10 chalk when stretched to seven furlongs in the Gasparilla. Gulf Coast returned to edge Honorifique in the one-mile Cash Run, and both were flattered when third finisher Adios Trippi returned to dead heat for the win in the Gasparilla.
We’re shooting for a price and keying off Curlin’s Catch (4) and Be Sneaky (8), who are both lightly raced with ample upside.
Curlin’s Catch, a $430,000 Curlin filly, was solidly backed for two starts on the synthetic surface at Woodbine in October, and then recorded improved pace and speed figures wiring maidens out of the chute at Gulfstream in her 3-year-old debut; those figures were validated when the second and fourth finishers returned to win.
Be Sneaky won first out at Laurel Park despite racing very greenly, and improved a few lengths a month later finishing third in the Smart Halo Stakes behind Street Lute. The latter has since come back to win three more stakes. This filly by Into Mischief is bred to relish stretching out to two turns and is tabbed at an enticing 12-1.
A — 4, 8
B — 2, 5, 7
Endeavour (Tam, race 10, 4:32 ET): I’m kind of forced to make a play here, because Margaret’s Joy (1) has been on my radar ever since Dec. 27 when she was steadied back to last at the start, stalled in traffic through the stretch, and galloped out strongly past the finish.
Although still eligible for a-other-than conditions, she is not totally overmatched by the numbers, so perhaps she can land somewhere on the board behind logical choices Counterparty Risk (5) and New York Girl (6).
Counterparty Risk improved for a second-out maiden win, then moved forward again when a fast-closing second in the Lady Of Shamrock Stakes opening day at Santa Anita, edging five-time stakes winner Warren’s Showtime for the runner-up spot.
New York Girl handled first-level allowance types decisively in her United States debut. She could move up if the course gets some rain, as she won the Weld Park Stakes (G3T) over heavy ground in her native Ireland at age 2.
A — 5, 6
B — 1
Sam F. Davis (Tam, race 11, 5:02 ET): Todd Pletcher goes in search of a seventh win in this event, and takes two shots with Known Agenda (3) and Millean (4).
I have a hard time believing Known Agenda is going to be anywhere near 6-1 considering his maiden win two back came at the expense of Greatest Honour, who won the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) in a romp Jan. 30. Perhaps Known Agenda didn’t care for the sloppy going when third in the Remsen Stakes (G2) after that.
Candy Man Rocket (9) will be shorter than his 10-1 morning-line quote as well, after dominating maidens at Gulfstream first time on a fast track.
In backup mode are Hidden Stash (1), Smiley Sobotoka (5), and Lucky Law (11).
Hidden Stash and Smiley Sobotoka last ran at Churchill Downs Nov. 28, when the former took a first-level allowance optional claimer and the latter finished a close second in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2); both of those 1 1/16-mile races were run in comparable times: 1:44.67 and 1:44.52 seconds.
Lucky Law goes turf to dirt for Patrick Biancone, whose Sole Volante (entered in the Tampa Bay Stakes (G3T)) also began his career with two grass races, then switched to dirt to run third in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes before winning the Sam Davis from far off the pace a year ago.
A — 3, 9
B— 1, 5, 11