Leads at Every Call, Repels Catholic Boy
By Dick Downey
The result of the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs picked up on a theme common to the 2017 Road to the Kentucky Derby, a season of improbable results. Flameaway, a horse that had never run a good race on fast dirt and that wasn't nominated to the Triple Crown, won in stakes record time after leading at every call.
The Mark Casse trainee, sent off at odds of 10-1, held off 3-5 Catholic Boy by a half-length after a stirring stretch run. Vino Rosso, the 2-1 second choice, finished third, beaten 1 1/4 length. Hollywood Star finished another 8 1/2 lengths back in fourth, followed by Navy Armed Guard and Septimius Severus.
The race unfolded with Flameaway and Jose Lezcano taking the field of six through fractions of 24.18, 47.73 and 1:11.25 for the first six furlongs. Vino Rosso and John Velazquez, initially in second position, dropped back to fifth, albeit only two lengths back after the first half-mile. Meanwhile, Septimius Severus pressed Flameaway while Catholic Boy, ridden by Manny Franco, laid in third, 1 1/2 length off the lead. Flameaway led into the stretch and was hooked by a determined Catholic Boy. With a furlong left, the pair were only a head apart, but Flameaway repelled the challenge. Vino Rosso seemed to have trouble getting hold of the track or was bothered while between horses early. After he shook loose at the top of the stretch, he closed strongly to finish third.
Flameaway was timed in 1:42.44 for the 1 1/16 mile.
Carrying 122 pounds, Catholic Boy gave six pounds to every horse in the field except Flameaway, whose rider weighed in at 120 pounds.
The Davis was the seventh career start for Flameaway. He had one prior race on fast dirt, and it resulted in a sixth-place finish, beaten 12 lengths in the Iroquois Stakes last September. A gritty horse that likes to win, he's taken five of seven starts so far, most recently the Kitten's Joy Stakes on turf in a blanket finish. He's now won on a sloppy track, a muddy track, synthetic track, turf and dirt rated fast. He finished eighth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
The winner was bred in Ontario by Phoenix Rising Farms and is owned by John C. Oxley, who purchased him for $400,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga August 2017 sale. He's by Scat Daddy out of Vulcan Rose, by Fusaichi Pegasus.
The Sam F. Davis Stakes carries 17 Kentucky Derby points with 10 going to the winner, four to second , two to third and one to fourth. Flameaway will get those 10 points if he's late-nominated to the Triple Crown. He picked up the $120,000 winner's share of a $200,000 purse. The other $50,000 of the announced purse was reserved for Florida-breds.
Winning trainer Mark Casse: “He’s a fighter. If you’ve ever watched him, you’ve seen that. With the track playing a little fast today, I told Jose he was going to like this track. The one thing about him is, if he gets in a battle, he’s going to win the battle. As long as the track is fairly firm, I think he’ll run on anything. I would say (returning for the Tampa Bay Derby) is a good chance, but it’s something I have to talk to Mr. Oxley about. I would also say I was kind of wishy-washy about trying him on dirt, and Mr. Oxley said ‘Can we do it one more time?’ He is the boss, so I said ‘Of course.’ ”
Winning jockey Jose Lezcano: “He is a very nice horse who I think is improving with every race. He’s very quiet, not hyper at all, and he gives you what you ask for. I think he will be a nice horse in the future.”
Jonathan Thomas, trainer of Catholic Boy: “”I really need to watch the race again, but I thought it was a big effort giving six pounds. I’m happy because it was a good effort. I just need to see it again and digest the race.”