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Asserting Bear and Matador, two tested Ontario-breds, take on the solid duo of Harpoon and Vinceremos from the barn of Todd Pletcher among a field of eight sophomores entered for the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes Feb. 1 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Although the 1 1/16-mile event does not provide points on the road to the Kentucky Derby, it serves as a prep for the March 8 Tampa Bay Derby, which does.
Co-highweights at 120 pounds, both Asserting Bear, trained by Reade Baker for his Bear Stables, and Matador, trained by Mark Casse for John Oxley, make their dirt debuts after racing solely at Woodbine.
Asserting Bear, by Bear's Kid, has had a steady campaign in six starts since August, and won the Nov. 17 Coronation Futurity going 1 ⅛ miles on the all weather track after stalking the pace. He came back from that one-length victory to take the lead sooner in the Dec. 7 Kingarvie Stakes at 1 1/16 miles and failed to hold off the challenge of Spadina Road, settling ¾ lengths back in second. Joe Rocco Jr. gets the mount from the 6 hole aboard the colt, who should benefit from the addition of blinkers. Asserting Bear is a finalist for a Sovereign Award as Canada's outstanding 2-year-old male.
Matador won the Oct. 20 Cup and Saucer Stakes going 1 1/16 miles on the turf before finishing off the board in the Coronation after encountering interference at the top of the stretch. Earlier in the season he finished third in the TVG Summer Stakes. Matador is by Malibu Moon , also the sire of Oxley and Casse's 2012 Davis runner-up and Tampa Bay Derby winner Prospective . He drew the outside post and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux in his first start since the Coronation and fifth outing overall.
Pletcher, a four-time winner of the Sam F. Davis (Rule, 2010; Brethren , 2011; Any Given Saturday , 2007; Bluegrass Cat , 2006), sends his winners for respected connections -- Harpoon owned by Let's Go Stable, and Vinceremos racing for WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stable.
By Tapit , Harpoon broke his maiden by 5 ½ lengths in a one-mile maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 26, that victory earned with a solid five-wide bid over 13 others. He had three other starts in 2013, all runner-up efforts, including one by 2 ¾ lengths to eventual Holy Bull winner Cairo Prince in an Oct. 6 maiden special weight at Belmont Park. Luis Saez will ride from post 1.
Vinceremos, by Pioneerof the Nile , broke his maiden Jan. 4 going a mile at Gulfstream by a hard-fought head over I'mbetterthangood. He held the victory despite having to be steadied when he ducked in at the sixteenth pole after closing with a good rally. Hall of Famer Edgar Prado gets the mount from the 3 hole.
My Meadowview Farm's lightly raced Noble Cornerstone comes in off a runner-up effort in the Dec. 15 Remington Springboard Mile Stakes. The New York-bred Noble Causeway gelding was a neck away from remaining undefeated in his second start for trainer Wesley Ward, but just missed after closing with a good effort four-wide when Louies Flower got up in the final strides.
Shadybrook Farm's homebred Imaginethatmom returns to dirt after a fifth-place finish in the Dec. 21 Dania Beach Stakes. The Florida-bred Imperialism gelding has been on dirt three times before, running fourth in an off-the-turf edition of the one-mile Pulpit at Gulfstream Nov. 30, breaking his maiden going 6 ½ furlongs at Calder Casino & Race Course late last September, and finishing second first time out on a sloppy track at Gulfstream earlier that month.
Rounding out the field are James Covello, Millennium Farms and West Point Thoroughbreds' maiden winner School On a Hill, a Student Council colt trained by Wayne Catalano who was supplemented to the race for $3,000, and Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence's impressive maiden winner Cousin Stephen, by Proud Citizen.
The winning connections of the Davis victor will be eligible for a $1 million bonus, payable if their horse goes on to win the Tampa Bay Derby and the Kentucky Derby. On the Sam F. Davis undercard, a field of 10 sophomore fillies will compete in the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes, headed by Gasparilla Stakes winner Nesso from the barn of Herman Wilensky and supplemental nominee Dame Dorothy, trained by Pletcher and owned by celebrity chef Bobby Flay