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Serious weekend for Derby hopefuls

Now it’s time for some serious stakes competition. This Saturday, three stakes races for 3-year-olds will go down in two of our warmest states, seeing the return of some of the crop’s biggest rising stars. At Tampa Bay Downs in Florida, the Sam F. Davis Stakes will feature the stakes debut of Brethren, the half-brother of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver; California will feature two promising races in the Robert B. Lewis and the El Camino Real Derby at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, each headlining a graded stakes winner on his way to padding his bankroll en route to Kentucky.

BrethrenTen 3-year-olds have lined up to butt heads in Saturday’s $225,000 Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes in a dash for graded stakes cash. Last year’s Kentucky Derby winner used this race as a prep to find his way to the roses, and his half-brother is going to try the same route when entering stakes competition for the first time. Last seen winning an allowance at Churchill Downs, Brethren has won his last two races, and will be the favorite of the Sam Davis, despite his inexperience in stakes competition. His biggest challenger will be Monzon, who is searching for his first graded stakes victory after most recently cinching the Count Fleet at Aqueduct. Beamer and Washington’s Rules look to have the greatest upside from some of the more battle-worn foes like Adulare, Reprized Halo, and Ribo Bobo. The Sam Davis is the traditional prep for the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby, which the division’s golden child, Uncle Mo, is targeting as his 2011 debut.

TapizarThe headliner for the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes is Tapizar, the winner of the Grade III Sham Stakes in his last time out. After breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs last November, Tapizar seems to have found a liking for getting his picture taken and stands every chance to return to the winner’s circle this Saturday. Tapizar will break from post four and be ridden once again by Garrett Gomez, who piloted him to win the Sham by 4 ¼ lengths. A handful of promising colts are looking to dash his dreams of grandeur; Richard Mandella-trainee Ten Devils is no stranger to stakes competition, finishing second to Silver Medallion over the turf in the Eddie Logan Stakes, and has never been worse than second in three career starts. Stakes-placed Anthony’s Cross and Riveting Reason will try to take on the bay son of Tapit, as well as maiden winners Quail Hill and Wegner. As Santa Anita has been playing to the speed ever since the track was converted back to dirt, pay special attention to the entries in this race who last won in front-running form.

The red carpet will be rolled out in the $200,000 Grade III El Camino Real Derby for Grade I winner Comma to the Top, who is sitting pretty on a five-race win streak most recently capped by the Grade I CashCall Futurity. Comma to the Top is 2-for-2 at Golden Gate Fields, the place where his win streak began. It took a little while for Comma to come around to his now signature form, but he ended 2010 with a bang and seems to only be improving. The top three finishers in Golden Gate’s California Derby aren’t doffing their hats to the star, as Positive Response, Jakesam, and Bluegrass Reward are all gunning to earn their right as kingpin over the small track. In addition, Silver Medallion, Steve Asmussen’s first starter at Golden Gate, will try for his second stakes victory in a row after winning the Eddie Logan at Santa Anita. Regardless of who shows up, if Comma to the Top enters 2011 as he left 2010, he’ll be lapping the field by the time the rest of the competition sees the first turn.

With the major players for the Kentucky Derby now beginning to come into focus, it’s up to these graded stakes to weed out the pretenders from the contenders. While the star status of Tapizar and Comma to the Top is already on the rise, the players in the Sam F. Davis have everything to prove this Saturday before taking the next big step in going toe-to-toe against Uncle Mo in the Tampa Bay Derby. So, who will be left standing after this round and move up on the list? Tune in to the warmest spots in the nation this Saturday for the answers.

Check the stakes calendar on for local post times and TV listings.

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