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Road to the Kentucky Derby: All eyes on Sam F. Davis

The road to the Kentucky Derby is less traveled this week with only the Sam F. Davis Stakes on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs. Off the track, an interesting situation is developing in California that could wind up making big Kentucky Derby news. Horses trained by Bob Baffert are not eligible to run in the 2024 Kentucky Derby. Baffert is also already making it difficult for his fellow California trainers to qualify for the Derby – provided they stay on the Golden State road.

California Scheming: Baffert Takes Other Trainers Down with Him

The 30 Kentucky Derby qualifying points Baffert horses “earned” by running 1-2 in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita last week vanished. Baffert appears to have the best 3-year-old in training in Nysos, who won the Lewis by 7½ lengths. Nysos is 3 for 3 by a combined 26¾ lengths and will likely run in the Santa Anita Derby on April 6.

Road to the Kentucky Derby: All eyes on Sam F. Davis
The field breaks from the gate at the start of the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby | Andy Lyons/Getty Images/AFP

The top two finishers in that race would earn enough points – 100 and 50 — to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate, but not if Baffert runs 1-2 again. Third place earns 25 points, which most likely won’t be enough on its own to qualify for the Derby. So it remains to be seen whether California hopefuls are shipped elsewhere to help realize their Derby dreams.

Nysos would be a heavy favorite in the Las Vegas Horse Racing Odds if he were eligible, so it will probably wind up making it an even better betting race on the first Saturday in May.

Longshot Looms in Sam F. Davis Stakes

Kentucky Derby odds won’t be swayed much with the running of the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. Change of Command is 3-1 morning-line favorite in the horse racing odds in the field of 12. The son of Into Mischief is trained by Shug McGaughey, who is 7 for 14 at the meet. A combination of McGaughey adding blinkers and an aggressive ride from Tyler Gaffalione from post 9 could produce a winning trip right behind the tiring sprinters.

Change of Command finished behind Derby hopefuls in Fierceness and Sierra Leone before breaking his maiden in his fourth career start. That was followed by a game victory going around two turns for the first time in an allowance at Gulfstream, earning an 83 Beyer speed figure — tops in the Sam F. Davis field. Change of Command boasts improving Beyers with each race.

Fulmineo is in with an upset chance. He finished second to Agate Road in the Grade 2 Pilgrim Stakes last fall before running 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Fulmineo returned to the races on Jan. 14, finishing second to Crazy Mason in an allowance race on dirt. Fulmineo broke slow, was wide down the backstretch, took the lead at the top of the stretch but could not hold off Crazy Mason. A clean break and a patient ride by Daniel Centeno could help Fulmineo.

Agate Road returns to dirt after four turf tries for trainer Todd Pletcher. Jose Ortiz replaces his brother Irad as the rider. Irad decided to instead dominate at Gulfstream on Saturday. Jose rode Change of Command in four of his first five career starts, including both wins. 

Be sure to include Change of Command and Fulmineo in all horizontal and vertical wagers at the BetUS racebook with Agage Road and Crazy Mason underneath in exotics.

The Sam F. Davis carded as Race 10, offers 42 Kentucky Derby qualifying points on a 20-10-6-4-2 basis. Post time is 5:15 p.m. ET. A fast track is expected.


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