The late author, humorist and columnist Irvin S. Cobb, a native of Paducah, Ky., may have come as close as anyone to describing the attraction of the Kentucky Derby on America’s sporting consciousness.
“Until you go to Kentucky and with your own eyes behold the Derby,” Cobb said, “you ain’t never been nowhere and you ain’t never seen nothin’!”
While it is difficult to argue with that assessment (especially for those fortunate enough to have tasted the delicacies of Derby Day in Louisville), Tampa Bay Downs intends to put its best foot forward in duplicating the atmosphere of the 139th Run for the Roses next weekend, while bringing down the curtain on its 87th season of Thoroughbred racing.
The Oldsmar oval begins its buildup to the most exciting two minutes in sports on Friday, with a 10-race card that begins at 12:35 p.m. Later that day, Tampa Bay Downs will simulcast the 139th running of the Kentucky Oaks, the Grade I, $1-million contest for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs.
Throughout the afternoon Friday, fans can advance wager on the full Saturday card from Churchill Downs, including the fabled $2-million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, which is scheduled to begin at 6:24 p.m.
The top three finishers from the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby – Verrazano, Java’s War and Falling Sky – are all expected to be part of the 20-horse Derby field.
Try to get a good night’s sleep Friday, because a full tank of adrenaline may be needed to be at your peak when the Derby horses begin to load. Tampa Bay Downs will open its gates at 10 a.m. on Saturday to accommodate fans and bettors who want to participate in the early Churchill Downs racing action, which begins at 10:30 a.m.
In addition to the Derby, the card includes five other stakes races, including the Grade I Humana Distaff and the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.
Tampa Bay Downs will offer a full card of live Thoroughbred racing action, plus simulcasting from other tracks around the country. But much of the action will take place away from the pari-mutuel windows, as the first Saturday in May always attracts an eclectic mix, from titans of industry and finance to every day working stiffs to fashion plates to first-time track visitors.
Expect to see women in colorful finery and Derby hats, sharps in double-breasted suits and cigar-chomping handicappers. There will be a Derby hat contest in the Backyard Picnic Area under the tent.
Tampa Bay Downs also will sell the traditional Kentucky Derby drink, a mint julep, in souvenir Derby glasses that are inscribed with the name of every winner, from Aristides in 1875 to I’ll Have Another in 2012.
The fun at Tampa Bay Downs will carry over into Sunday, May 5, which will mark the conclusion of the 2012-13 meet. In addition to being Cinco de Mayo, next Sunday at Tampa Bay Downs will be Fan Appreciation Day, with free admission and $1 hot dogs, sodas and draft beers from noon-3 p.m.
The Gift Shop on the first floor of the grandstand has begun selling Kentucky Derby merchandise such as T-shirts, caps, shot glasses and souvenir glasses.
Trainers Javier Negrete and Kenneth Manness each sent out two winners on Sunday’s card, while jockeys Augusto A. Marin and Danny Coa each rode two winners.
Negrete’s winners were long shots. In the fifth race, a six-furlong maiden claiming affair, his 4-year-old filly Summertime Music broke the ice in her ninth start to the tune of a $100.40 payoff. Eddie Dominguez rode the winner, who is owned by Ricardo Romo. Negrete also won the eighth race, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week, with 6-year-old gelding Zangado, a 13-1 shot. Zangado won the mile-and-a-sixteenth turf claiming race under jockey Marin for owner Roberta Vigil.
Manness saddled the winner of the fourth race, the 6-year-old gelding Amomenttomambo, for breeder-owner Zollie Durr. Jose Angel Garcia was the rider in the 1-mile maiden special weight event.
Manness was again victorious in the 10th and final race, a six-furlong maiden claiming contest “In Memory of Corky Cantlon-Bubolz.” David Amiss rode the winner, 5-year-old gelding Take Heed, for owner Doyce Bell.
Marin’s other victory came in the third race, a six-and-a-half furlong claiming contest, on 4-year-old filly Shepherd’s Furey for owner Big Lick Farm and trainer Reid Nagle.
Coa probably wishes April didn’t have to end, as he finished the month with 21 winners. In addition to his victories Sunday, he came up on the short end of two photo finishes.
Coa won the sixth race, a maiden claiming race at a mile on the turf, on 3-year-old gelding Cathy’s Irish Boy for owners Shade Tree Thoroughbreds, Inc., and Edward Gerrits and trainer Jason DaCosta. He then took the ninth race, a mile-and-a-sixteenth turf claimer, on 4-year-old gelding Skiffs Brewmeister for owner Richard Talbot and trainer Kathleen O’Connell.
From now through Saturday, card players in The Silks Poker Room have the opportunity to qualify for a drawing to win a Toyota 4Runner from Wesley Chapel Toyota Honda. In any of the cash games, a hand of aces-full or better with one card earns one drawing ticket; four-of-a-kind or better with both cards earns two tickets; a straight flush earns three tickets; and a royal flush earns five tickets.
Thursday is a double-ticket day. The drawing for the 4Runner will be held Sunday, May 5; the winner must be present to attend. In addition, nine tickets will be drawn that day for $599 cash prizes. The Silks Poker Room is open daily from 10 a.m.-4 a.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.