OLDSMAR, Fla. -- If anyone ever accuses Mark Casse of having Derby fever, well, he's got a good comeback.
"Doesn't everybody?" Casse said, laughing.
Casse will be on hand Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs to see if Flameaway has what it takes to advance along the Derby trail as one of the more credentialed contenders in the Grade 3, $200,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes. The 1 1/16-mile Davis, which offers 17 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby (10 to the winner), figures to have Catholic Boy as a solid favorite, with Flameway, Hollywood Star, and Vino Rosso as the main challengers in a field of seven 3-year-olds.
Flameaway is owned by John C. Oxley, who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby as the owner of Monarchos. An Ontario-bred colt by the late Scat Daddy, Flameaway is a two-time stakes winner on dirt, albeit inadvertently: his victories last year in the Skidmore at Saratoga and Bourbon at Keeneland both came after the races were transferred from turf to the main track because of weather.
In his 3-year-old debut, Flameaway won the Jan. 6 Kitten's Joy over the Gulfstream Park turf in a wild scramble -- less than two lengths separated the entire field of seven -- and Casse feels now is the time to see whether Flameaway can become part of the Derby discussion. Jose Lezcano will be in from Gulfstream for the mount.
"We feel like he's done enough on the grass for now and this would be a legitimate spot to try this caliber of 3-year-olds on dirt," he said. "It's come up a pretty salty race, actually, but we might be okay in there."
Catholic Boy, a 4 3/4-length winner of the Grade 2 Remsen in December, will have Manny Franco back aboard in the Davis, the local prep to the March 10 Tampa Bay Derby. Early Wednesday, Catholic Boy had an easy gallop here under exercise rider Tracey Brown prior to being gate-schooled by trainer Jonathan Thomas, who intended to school the colt in the paddock between races later in the day.
"He's moving extremely well and feeling great," said Thomas.
Hollywood Star, with Joel Rosario to ride, was scratched from the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream last Saturday by trainer Dale Romans in order to run here. Vino Rosso, trained by Todd Pletcher, will be ridden by John Velazquez when he looks to stay unbeaten in three starts after easily winning a maiden race at Aqueduct in November and a first-level allowance here in December.
The Davis is carded as the third of four stakes and the 10th of 12 races overall here Saturday. First post is 12:13 p.m. Eastern, with the Davis going at 4:52. The other three stakes are Grade 3, $150,000 turf twins, the Endeavour (race 9) and the Tampa Bay Stakes (race 11), and the $100,000 Suncoast (race 7) for 3-year-old fillies on the main track.