OLDSMAR — The first test is over. Give Rule an A after his wire-to-wire victory in Saturday's Grade III $225,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
Rule, the even-money favorite, fended off a challenge by Schoolyard Dreams in the final furlong to win his 3-year-old debut in front of 4,637. It was his fourth consecutive victory, the past three in stakes.
It was the third Davis victory in five years for trainer Todd Pletcher, jockey John Velazquez and owner WinStar Farm, including Any Given Saturday (2007) and Bluegrass Cat (2006).
"There were some horses that could run, and he passed his first test," WinStar president Doug Cauthen said. "It's always a 10 when you're in the winner's circle.
"Johnny said he started looking around when he got to the lead and (was) just messing around a little bit. He looks like he's progressing … moving forward. Hopefully, there's more in the tank."
Rule, a Kentucky homebred colt by Roman Ruler, set fractions of 23.71 and 47.72 seconds in the six-horse field. Schoolyard Dreams challenged down the stretch, but Rule pulled away to win by 3 lengths. He paid $4 to win and ran 11/16 miles in 1:44.15. Uptowncharlybrown was another length behind in third.
Rule, who has six starts, raised his earnings to $716,700 with the $120,000 win. Cauthen said his next start will be the March 13 Tampa Bay Derby or March 20 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.
Schoolyard Dreams trainer Derek Ryan said he was satisfied with his colt's performance.
"He's still got a lot of improving to do and got a few lengths to make up," Ryan said. "But all in all, I was pretty happy."
Favorites won the other stakes races on Festival Preview Day. Lomaki ($7.20) captured the Grade III $125,000 Endeavour. Diva Delite ($6.20) won the $75,000 Suncoast, her fourth consecutive win under trainer David Vivian.
"I can't thank Mr. Vivian and the owners (Barbara Vivian and Dominic Vittese) enough for the opportunity," winning jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr. said. "She seems like she can go any distance, and she's easy to ride."