OLDSMAR — Many thought a Sky colt would win the Grade III $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs. They just didn't think it would be Falling Sky, who held off Dynamic Sky and survived an objection to capture the Kentucky Derby point qualifier in front of 5,862 on Festival Preview Day.
Making his first start — and career debut at two turns — for new owners Newtown Anner Stud, James Covello and Joseph Bulger, Falling Sky ($17.80) won by a neck in gate-to-wire fashion as the fourth wagering favorite in the field of nine. My Name Is Michael, the 8-5 favorite, was third, and Speak Logistics — whose rider, Angel Serpa, claimed foul against the winner — was fourth. The top four finishers earned points in the new Kentucky Derby qualifying scoring system on a scale of 10-4-2-1
Falling Sky, a 3-year-old colt by Lion Heart, stumbled slightly leaving the gate under first-time rider Jose Espinoza. He was quickly sent to the lead and set fractions of 23.49 and 47.68 seconds.
On the final turn, three rivals closed in on Falling Sky, with Speak Logistics trying to sneak through along the rail. But Falling Sky held his position, and Speak Logistics had to take up, losing all momentum. After that, Falling Sky had to deal with only Dynamic Sky, who was cutting into a 2-length deficit with every stride.
It took track stewards only a short time to disallow Serpa's claim of foul.
The winning time for 11/16th miles was 1 minute, 44.79 seconds.
"I saw somebody come behind me when I switched to the lead right at the (second) turn," Espinoza said. "(Speak Logistics) was bumping me from behind. Then my horse gave a break and really kicked in at the end. (My goal is to) win the Kentucky Derby."
Said Falling Sky trainer John Terranova II: "We were hoping to break a little cleaner, but we expected to either be in the front or in the stalking position. Obviously, the Tampa Bay Derby (on March 9) is under consideration (next)."
It was the third victory from four starts for Falling Sky, who raised his career earnings to $164,800 with the $120,000 paycheck. The Pennsylvania-bred was purchased Jan. 15 for a session-topping $425,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. winter mixed sale at the recommendation of racing manager Nick Sallusto.
Dynamic Sky, the 9-5 second wagering pick, had no excuses, trainer Mark Casse said. "Luis (Contreras, the jockey) said he switched leads late," Casse said. "Once he switched, (Dynamic Sky) started coming, but it was just a little too little, too late. (On Serpa's objection), you don't really want to win that way."
Jockey Joel Rosario won two Grade III $150,000 stakes races on the 11/16th-mile turf course. In the Endeavour, Old Tune ($8.20) broke a 14-year track record with a clocking of 1:39.30. Tapicat ($3.80) won the Florida Oaks in a stakes-record time of 1:39.78.