OLDSMAR — No owner and trainer combination has dominated Tampa Bay’s second-biggest Kentucky Derby prep race, the Sam F. Davis Stakes, quite like WinStar Farm LLC and Todd Pletcher.
But even this result was a bit of a surprise to the announced crowd of 4,812 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Vinceremos, a lightly raced dark brown colt making just its third career start, fell back at the stop of the stretch but rallied to win the Grade III Festival Preview Day feature, paying $26.80 for the win.
Pletcher’s other entry, 9-5 second choice Harpoon, nearly caught Vinceremos in the final yards but finished second by a nose. Morning-line favorite Cousin Stephen was up late for third.
It is the fifth time since 2006 that a horse trained by Pletcher and owned by WinStar Farm has won the Sam F. Davis. Twin Creeks Racing Stables also is a co-owner of Vinceremos.
“He was relaxed and I was confident that he would be there for me when I asked,” said Vinceremos’ jockey, Edgar Prado. “Entering the stretch there was still room on the inside and he responded when I sent him down.”
Prado intentionally took Vinceremos off the lead at the top of the stretch, which had Pletcher assistant Ginny DePasquale thinking he was out of contention. But the decision was calculated — Prado said Vinceremos “tends to put on the brakes” when he leads too early.
The clever trip was just enough for victory, as Harpoon, Pletcher’s more-accomplished entry in the race, made up ground between horses but couldn’t catch the surging Vinceremos. Betting favorite Noble Cornerstone stumbled out of the gate, was in last place around the first turn and never menaced, finishing seventh in the eight-horse field.
“A dead heat would have been perfect,” DePasquale said. “You never know when they are going to step up and (Vinceremos) obviously did at the right time.”
The winning time of the 1 1/16th-mile race — 1 minute, 47.34 seconds — was the slowest the race has seen in 12 years, and more than 2 seconds slower than the previous worst winning time since the race attained Grade III status in 2009.
The main track was upgraded from “good” to “fast” in the middle of the 12-race card Saturday after steady rain saturated the dirt Thursday and Friday.
DePasquale said she expects Pletcher to run Vinceremos in the Tampa Bay Derby next month. Vinceremos, as the Sam F. Davis winner, is eligible for a $1 million bonus if it can win the Tampa Bay Derby and Kentucky Derby.
Pletcher was not as fortunate in the Grade III $150,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes, as 1-2 favorite Salto was beaten in the stretch by 14-1 long shot Guys Reward.
The Dale Romans trainee, ridden by Abdiel Jaen, broke dead last but simply out-ran the favorite, which seemed to get a perfect trip under jockey Luis Saez.
Other than the Sam F. Davis, numerous horses were pulled out by their trainers due to the uncertain weather conditions and the yielding turf course, which was saved for the Tampa Bay Stakes.
Please Explain ($5.00) won the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for three-year old fillies on the dirt for trainer Tom Proctor, after the top two favorites and two others scratched.