A third of the way into the track’s 88th season of Thoroughbred racing, Tampa Bay Downs management, officials and horsemen are gearing up for what promises to be a thrilling Saturday stakes program.
If it is as spectacular as 49-year-old jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr.’s first third of the season, everyone involved will be savoring Festival Preview Day for a long time.
The four-time track riding champion rode four winners today for the third time during the meeting and the second time in the last seven performances. His whirlwind effort gives him 40 victories for the season, six more than runner-up Antonio Gallardo.
More on the frisky Allen shortly.
On Saturday, the Oldsmar oval’s annual Festival Preview Day will consist of three graded stakes, including the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds going a mile-and-a-sixteenth – an event that has produced at least one Kentucky Derby starter in nine of the last 10 years.
This year, the stakes are higher than at any time since Croziers Ace – bred by the late patriarch of Silver Oaks Horse Farm in Ocala, Harold L. Cherry – won the inaugural edition of the Davis in 1981.
Through the creation this year of the Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus, the owner(s) of the Davis winner become eligible to win a cool million dollars, payable should the horse also capture the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 8 and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 3.
But that’s not all that is available. One fan who attends Festival Preview Day, fills out an entry blank and deposits it in a box corresponding with the Davis winner will be eligible for the Lambholm South $100,000 Fan Bonus.
Regardless of which fan gets lucky, spectators will enjoy an afternoon of topflight racing action, with the Davis accompanied on the program by the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes for older horses at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-40-yards.
MEANWHILE, TODAY’S PROGRAM SAW Ronnie Allen, Jr., ride four winners, two for trainer Gerald Bennett. Allen won the first race on 5-year-old mare Dress the Part for owner Glen Hill Farm and trainer Tom Proctor. He captured the sixth on 3-year-old filly The Conception for owner Maria Sol Aller and trainer Murat Sancal.
Allen added the seventh on 5-year-old gelding Bowman’s Sam for owner Debbie Flanagan and Bennett and won the 10th on the turf for Bennett with a powerful stretch charge on Winning Stables, Inc., and La Marca Stable’s 4-year-old gelding Paltarrevenge.
Brian Pedroza and Tampa Bay Downs newcomer Victor Lebron each rode two winners today, with Pedroza’s double giving him four over the weekend. Both came on the turf for trainer Dennis Ward.
In the fourth race, Pedroza piloted 4-year-old gelding Southside Johnny to a maiden-breaking victory. Ward owns Southside Johnny, who was bred by his son Wesley Ward. Pedroza and the elder Ward teamed to win the eighth with 4-year-old gelding Hawkeye Jimmie, owned by the Ridenjac Racing Stable of Ward’s wife, Jeanne Shand.
Lebron won the second race on 4-year-old filly Hot French Fries for owner Rolf Obrecht and trainer Anthony Granitz and the ninth on 4-year-old gelding Paradise Rock for owner Romar, LLC and trainer Wayne Mogge.
NOW, BACK TO FESTIVAL PREVIEW DAY and the $100,000 fan bonus. Immediately after the Sam F. Davis, the winning jockey will draw a single entry blank from all those who selected the Davis victor. That fan will claim $100,000 if the horse goes on to win the Tampa Bay Derby and Kentucky Derby and will receive free clubhouse dining room admission and lunch on March 8 for a party of six.
“This is the time of year when even casual horse racing fans begin focusing on the 3-year-olds who look like Kentucky Derby candidates,” said Tampa Bay Downs General Manager Peter Berube. “We’ve been fortunate to have two Kentucky Derby winners use the Tampa Bay Derby as a stepping stone (Street Sense in 2007 and Super Saver in 2010), and the addition of the $1-million bonus gives owners and trainers of the top horses another reason to consider Tampa Bay Downs as a starting point.”
Boxes with the saddlecloth numbers and names of each Davis entrant will be set up at both the main grandstand and clubhouse entrances, with entry blanks, writing instruments and attendants to answer any questions.
Festival Preview Day also marks the start of the “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest, a free online competition that offers $3,000 in cash prizes and a seat at the 2015 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship (date and site to be determined) to the first-place winner.
The contest runs every day through Saturday, April 5, which is Florida Cup Day. Players make a mythical $2 win-place-show wager on a single horse each day in one of the two challenge races on the contest website, and the player’s bankroll accrues throughout based on the official pari-mutuel payoffs.
An out-of-the-money finish results in a strike, with three strikes terminating a player’s participation, although she/he will remain eligible for a $500 prize given to the player selecting the most winners over the duration of the contest.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.