OLDSMAR — The last time Rule started, sleet and snow turned the racing surface into slop. He still delivered.
Today, the Kentucky homebred continues the quest to be a WinStar Farm wonder in the 30th running of the Grade III $225,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The Festival Preview Day card includes the Grade III $125,000 Endeavour and $75,000 Suncoast. Rule, one of 20 Triple Crown nominees by trainer Todd Pletcher, makes his 3-year-old debut. It will be his first start since winning the Grade III $750,000 Delta Jackpot Dec. 4 at Delta Downs in Vinton, La., a half-length victory over Uh Oh Bango that gave him sufficient graded earnings ($450,000) for a starting spot in this year's Kentucky Derby.
"He's a horse we always felt like would get better with ground, and would be better as a 3-year-old," WinStar vice president and racing manager Elliott Walden said. "We're looking forward to running him to see that. He came to hand very well late in his 2-year-old year, and we felt that was, hopefully, a foreshadow of what was to come."
Rule, a colt by Grade I winner Roman Ruler, has won his past three races. In October, he broke his maiden in his third career start at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. He won the $175,000 Jean Lafitte in track-record time Nov. 9 at Delta Downs. In his three wins, all 1 mile or longer, Rule has never trailed.
"While he does have speed, it's not sprinter's speed," Walden said. "If he runs a race going 6 or 7 furlongs, he'd be off the pace. But going long, he has shown tactical speed. … Todd feels like he's exactly where he wants him, which is to run a good race … hopefully a winning race. But it's not going to be his best race of the year, for sure."
Rule will be ridden by John Velazquez. He drew the rail against six rivals, including unbeaten Uptowncharlybrown. Rule is out of the WinStar mare Rockcide, a half-sister to 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide, who was bred at WinStar. Rule's grandsire is 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.
WinStar, the only owner with multiple starters in every Kentucky Derby since 2006, has produced two of the past four Sam F. Davis winners: Any Given Saturday (2007) and Bluegrass Cat (2006), whose second-place finish in the 2006 Run for the Roses is the best so far for the Versailles, Ky., operation.
The 1�-mile Sam F. Davis (Race 10, 4:52 p.m.) will be run between the Suncoast (9, 4:23 p.m.) and the Endeavour (11, 5:25).
DERBY FOLLOWING: WinStar has launched an Internet fantasy game for fans to follow the Kentucky Derby trail. See winstar.com for information.
Rachel update: Horse of the year Rachel Alexandra is scheduled to make her first start of the year March 13 at the Fair Grounds in a new race called the New Orleans Ladies.