The Defense Rests: Festival Preview Day 

February 12, 2023

Litigate in the winner’s circle with connections (Ben Baugh)

Litigate captures the Grade Three Sam F. Davis, Dreaming of Snow freezes out champ, Sibelious composes a stakes record score and Drifaros’s character and courage carry her to victory on Festival Preview Day. 

By Ben Baugh

OLDSMAR, FL.— There was no controversy in this court.

Litigate a son of the 2010 Eclipse Award-winning older male Blame, scored a 1 ¼-length victory in the $250,000 Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes Saturday afternoon at Tampa Bay Downs. 

The Todd Pletcher charge, who races in the silks of Donald Little Jr.’s Centennial Farm, had jockey Luis Saez in the irons. Pletcher an 8-time winner of the Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer, added to his ever-expanding resume, this time with his seventh victory in the Sam F. Davis. Pletcher had previously won the race in 2006 with Bluegrass Cat; 2007, Any Given Saturday; 2010, Rule; 2011, Brethren; 2014, Vinceremos and 2016, Destin. 

It was the lightly raced bay colt’s protracted rally and his repulsing of Groveland’s bid that ultimately prevailed. Litigate drew the 11-hole and the less-than-ideal weather didn’t present a problem for the Keeneland 2021 September yearling purchase as he handled the 1 1/16-miles with the professionalism of a far more seasoned campaigner. 

“He ran super today, the 11 post was a slight concern, but we left it to Louie to get him away from there running,” said Stu Hanson, Todd Pletcher’s assistant trainer. “He put us in a good spot and did just that, and from there forward it was all Louie and Litigate. We’re delighted to get a result today.”

Saturday’s performance is redolent that greater things may be on the horizon for the Kentucky-bred. His recent training at Palm Beach Downs has been exceptional. 

“He’s a horse in the mornings that’s showing that he’s maturing both physically and mentally,” said Hanson. “We put a bit of work into him last week. We were really pleased with the last couple of days. He’s been ready to do something, and we’re glad he showed up and proved everyone right in the afternoon.”

Dreaming of Snow. astounds in the Suncoast (Ben Baugh)

However, it was the race previous to the running of the Sam F. Davis, that had bettors who were fortunate enough to select the winner smiling and others, who put their money on the favorite, last year’s 2-year-old filly champion and early Kentucky Oaks favorite Wonder Wheel, disappointed as the outcome of the race saw Florida-bred Dreaming of Snow holding on to beat the champ by a desperate neck as she captured the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes. The track’s leading trainer Gerald Bennett and leading jockey Samy Camacho teamed for the victory. Dreaming of Snow is campaigned by Winning Stables Inc. and Team Equistaff, LLC.

It was the first time that the filly went around two turns, and the second start of Dreaming of Snow’s sophomore campaign. Her penchant for the pace was rewarded Saturday. The diminutive charge was more than up to the challenge of the 1 mile and 40 yards route contest. 

“This was her first time in a longer race,” said Mary Thomas, Team Equistaff, LLC. She’s an amazing filly, very small but beautiful. I felt that she could do it all along, Gerry was warning me, don’t get your hopes up there’s a lot of good horses in there. But you know, she’s calm, cool and collected. And if you look at her works, she’s really quick.”

It was the third win in five starts for the chestnut daughter of Jess’s Dream-Snow Fashion, Old Fashioned. She had finished fourth in her 3-year-old debut in last month’s Gasparilla Stakes. 

“When she had her last race, she just got fanned out last time on too deep a track outside, and she just kind of flattened out a little bit,” said Bennett. “She’s been waiting to run long. She was doing much better when she was training at Monmouth. Everybody said the farther she goes, she’s going to do better. I told Samy to go to the front. If they catch you, they catch you.”

Karyn Philipp bred Dreaming of Snow and recognized the promise in the runner who was making her third stakes start. Dreaming of Snow’s half-brother, Montauk Daddy, placed third in the 2019 Skidmore Stakes at Saratoga. 

“I had confidence in this filly, Snow Fashion produces runners, and Samy is the perfect fit for her, the track’s leading rider and Bennett is the leading trainer,” said Phillipp. “They make a great combination.”

To the winner’s circle for Sibelius and his connections (Ben Baugh)

It was Jun H. Park’s and Delia Nash’s Sibelius that captured the 39th running of the $100,000 Pelican Stakes. The chestnut son of Not This Time established a new stakes record, winning by 1 ¼-lengths. The winner is conditioned by Jeremiah O’Dwyer and was ridden to victory by Junior Alvarado, who had piloted Sibelius in his previous five starts. 

“He was on the lead the whole way, got pressure the whole way, the speed went the whole way, and I was very proud with the way that he battled and held on the whole way to the wire,” said O’Dwyer. “Hopefully, we’ll get an invitation to Dubai, to the Golden Shaheen. 

Sibelius became a graded stakes winner his last time out, with an added money score in the Grade Three Mr. Prospector Stakes in December at Gulfstream Park. 

“This horse is great he’s just improved from three to four and from four to five, he’s a gelding,” said O’Dwyer, who had been a jockey in Ireland and England. “He’s just getting bigger and stronger and hopefully, we’re going to have a fun year.”

Sibelius turned in an impressive performance this past fall when won he Lite The Fuse Stakes at Laurel Park by 7 ½-lengths. 

“He probably wasn’t nearly as impressive looking today (as he was in the Lite The Fuse) because of the speed, they went the whole way,” said O’Dwyer, who conditioned Shotski to victory in the 2019 Remsen Stakes (Gr. 2) and Need Supervision in the 2019 Silverbulletday Stakes. “This horse never got a breather the whole way. He never got a chance to fill his lungs. He just showed a lot of heart and tenacity. He came out of the Mr. Prospector in great form, we’ve had six weeks in between the Mr. Prospector and here. Now that he’s proven he’s a good horse, you have to plan a little more. You have to train a little bit more by design, when you know exactly what race you’re pointing towards as you know it’s going to go.”

The brief respite away from the races seemed to be beneficial for Sibelius and Saturday’s record-setting performance was suggestive of a promising future. 

 “He came out of the Mr. Prospector fresh and well, had an easy week, a little bit of turn out in the round pen, hand walking and he lets you know when he wants to go back to the track,” said O’Dwyer. “He gets full of himself, so you have to train him a bit again. “

Drifaros cruises to the finish line in the Minaret (Ben Baugh)

It’s four consecutive scores for Drifaros, and the 4-year-old filly was much the best Saturday afternoon, as she drew clear in upper stretch to win the 42nd edition of the 6-furlong Minaret Stakes. Wanda Pollisseni’s My Purple Haze’s Stable owns Drifaros. Tampa Bay Downs’ all-time leading jockey by number of wins Daniel Centeno was in the irons and the winner was conditioned by Terry Pompay

“She’s been so gutsy for us, when you think she’s getting beat, and horses come to her, she just gets another gear,” said Pompay, a former jockey and movie stunt double. “She’s not all that beautiful to look at, but she’s all racehorse, all guts.”

However, overcoming adversity is a testament to the chestnut daughter of Kantharos’ courage and character and her response has been powerful, a window into the soul and sole. 

“She started at Monmouth and did really well for us,” said Pompay. “She has bad feet and she’s always fighting with her feet. In Gulfstream we trained her barefoot. And then we went to Monmouth, we couldn’t train her barefoot because it was all concrete going back to the track, so we put shoes on her. She won two in a row, but then her feet were killing her, she got all body sore, so we basically pulled her shoes and gave her some time off.

“We brought her back to Gulfstream, I kept her with me, we brought her back down there and we trained her with no shoes, and the last work before we ran her, we put her shoes on. She doesn’t grow a lot of foot and it’s really shelly. She has all the talent, but it took us a while to figure it all out. She’s doing great.”

Contributing Authors

Ben Baugh

Ben Baugh has been writing about Thoroughbred racing for more than 25 years. A past winner of the Raleigh Burroughs Award, his work has appeared...

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@PastTheWire Great read brought back some sad memories.The only race she lost killed her. Legacy. @jonathanstettin

Tim n (@CigarSire) View testimonials