OLDSMAR — G Five, the colt with the clever name, didn't have much game.
That appears to be changing.
Five months after reaching a low point in his brief career, G Five faces his biggest test this afternoon in the Grade III $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, headliner on Festival Preview Day at Tampa Bay Downs.
The Sam F. Davis, a 11/16-mile event for 3-year-olds, is Race 11 at 5:20. The undercard includes the Grade III $150,000 Endeavour Stakes (10, 4:50) for older fillies and mares on turf, and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes (9, 4:20) for 3-year-old fillies.
The Sam F. Davis remains off the Kentucky Derby qualifying point series, and the Downs has dropped last year's promotion of a $1 million bonus to the winner of the Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Derby and Kentucky Derby.
But Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners president Aron Wellman, 37, of Del Mar, Calif., said the Sam F. Davis represented an enticing target for his G Five's first stakes.
"It's unfortunate for Tampa Bay that there aren't any Derby points associated in play," he said. "But we'll be able to avoid having to run against the bona fide Kentucky Derby trail-type colts, because everybody's scrambling to get those points to gain entry. At this point, we don't consider G Five to having established himself as a legitimate Derby contender.
"This should provide him with the opportunity to prove whether he can continue to elevate his game. A good showing in the Sam F. Davis might propel him into the Tampa Bay Derby (the Downs' only Kentucky Derby qualifier offering 85 total points on March 7)," Wellman said.
G Five starts from post 8 with jockey Rajiv Maragh as seven-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher goes for his sixth title in the 35-year-old event. Pletcher also entered Royal Son, whose owner WinStar Farm has five Sam F. Davis victories.
G Five has been a work in progress. The son of 2006 Kentucky Derby runner Flashy Bull and out of the Harlan's Holiday mare Fly Don't Drive didn't impress early as a juvenile. He was too laid back in morning workouts and in his first race, a seventh-place finish against maiden-special weight sprinters on Aug. 3 at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.
Changes ensued. G Five was moved to Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, blinkers were added and he was stretched out after winning a $25,000 maiden-claiming sprint by 8 lengths. His first effort at 1-mile resulted in a 4-length victory against allowance-optional foes. He has been third in his past two races. Overall, the Kentucky-bred has two victories from five starts and $39,300 in purse earnings. "(The changes) certainly have translated into more focus and a determined racehorse," Wellman said.
G Five was purchased for $145,000 at the 2013 Fasig-Tipton yearling sale in Lexington, Ky.
"We thought that he was cut out to be more of a sprinter when we first bought him based on his physique," said Wellman. "So it is a bit of a surprise that he actually seems to be better suited toward two-turn races.
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"You can't take anything away from his blue-collar sort of persona in that he grabs his lunch pail every day, and he goes out to work. He's not going to wow you. But he's one of those that by virtues of his try, and what ability he does have in conjunction with his endurance, is a horse that at this time of year could certainly work his way up the ladder."
G Five's name was derived from an astute play of his pedigree's names.
"A G Five is a type of jet that the privileged individuals in this world have access to and are able to fly around, whether it's business or holiday," Wellman said. "G Fives are very fast jets (and) we're hoping that G Five would be fast and classy."