Thoroughbred racing fans choosing to attend Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday will enjoy the best of two worlds – the simulcast of the 138th Kentucky Derby and a 12-race live card that includes 124 horses.
For many, picking the winner of the Derby will be a thrill beyond compare. But opportunities are plentiful throughout the day to cash a few tickets, enjoy the sights and sounds that surround the event, sip a mint julep and celebrate one of America’s greatest traditions.
The gates open at 10 a.m., with the first race from Churchill Downs at 10:30. Post time for the first race at Tampa Bay Downs is 12:15 p.m., kicking off the final weekend of the 2011-12 meeting.
Simulcasts will also air from numerous other Thoroughbred and greyhound tracks, including Belmont Park, Calder, Arlington, Betfair Hollywood Park, Pimlico and Derby Lane dog track in St. Petersburg.
Sunday is Fan Appreciation Day, with free admission and $1 hot dogs and sodas and $2 draft beers from noon-3 p.m.
The hearts of many Tampa Bay Downs fans, officials, horsemen and jockeys will be with Willie Martinez late Saturday afternoon when the veteran rider enters the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby aboard the 3-year-old colt Trinniberg, who won both the Grade III Swale Stakes at Gulfstream and the Grade III Bay Shore at Aqueduct under Martinez earlier this year.
Martinez, who has enjoyed great popularity in Tampa since beginning his career more than 20 years ago, won the track’s riding title during the 1991-92 season. He won 18 races at the current meeting. In his fourth and most recent Kentucky Derby appearance, in 2010, Martinez finished fifth aboard Noble’s Promise.
Although Trinniberg is 50-1 on the morning line, 50-1 shots have won the Derby before; in fact, two of the last seven Derby winners, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009, were 50-1. It’s said good things happen in threes, so Martinez and Trinniberg at least have a shot to wear the roses.
Tampa Bay Downs supporters are also high on the Derby prospects of Prospective, who won the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10 in the second-fastest winning time in race history. Earlier in the meeting, Prospective won the $100,000 Pasco Stakes and was a fast-closing second in the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes.
Prospective will be ridden by Sovereign Award-winning jockey Luis Contreras, who will be making his Derby debut. He is trained by multiple Sovereign Award-winning conditioner Mark Casse and owned by John C. Oxley, who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos.
Prospective, who finished sixth in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes five weeks after the Tampa Bay Derby, is 30-1 in the morning line.
Another past Tampa Bay Downs riding champion with a Derby mount is Jose Lezcano, who won the 2005-06 title with 92 victories. The 27-year-old Lezcano – who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic on Royal Delta – finished second aboard Ice Box in the 2010 Kentucky Derby.
Like Martinez, Lezcano is on a 50-1 shot in Rousing Sermon, whose last victory was in a California-bred stakes in October. It is worth noting, though, that the colt’s trainer, Hall of Fame member Jerry Hollendorfer, has sent out three winners of the Kentucky Oaks and that Rousing Sermon rallied from far back to finish third in the Louisiana Derby, his most recent start.
The Kentucky Derby is one of only four graded stakes at Churchill on Saturday featuring entrants with Tampa Bay Downs connections.
HOOH WHY BECOMES A MILLIONAIRE
One who stayed behind, Florida-bred 6-year-old mare Hooh Why, rewarded her connections Friday at Tampa Bay Downs by winning a $30,500 Overnight Handicap carded as the fourth race at a mile on the turf to surpass the $1-million mark in career earnings.
After tracking a moderate pace set by White Merlot and Swinging Cruise up the backstretch, Hooh Why moved to the lead nearing the quarter-mile pole, drew off quickly and was never threatened, winning by four-and-a-quarter lengths. Brinca finished second and Another Smokey was third. White Merlot was eased through the stretch.
Ronnie Allen, Jr. rode the winner, who paid $4. Allen had ridden Hooh Why previously Dec. 11 at Gulfstream when she finished second in the South Beach Stakes at 40-1.
Hooh Why is owned by the Estate of Gail Gee, Mark Hoffman and Earl Trostrud, Jr. A Grade I winner as a 3-year-old, Hooh Why had won the $75,000 Florida Cup First Dude Distaff Turf at Tampa Bay Downs in her previous start April 7 and earlier this year won the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf at Gulfstream at odds of 17-1.
The victory was her 11th in 39 career starts, to go with eight seconds and seven thirds, and the winner’s share of $19,500 boosted her lifetime bankroll to $1,007,672. She has won four of eight turf starts.
Hooh Why was also entered in Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes, but Hoffman elected to stay at Tampa Bay Downs to let her become a millionaire in winning style and avoid the likes of Marketing Mix, Aruna and Daisy Devine.
“I wanted to get her over the $1-million mark here and let her shine,” Hoffman said. “That Churchill race is tough, and I didn’t want to deal with all the confusion of shipping her there.”
Hoffman plans to take Hooh Why to Derby Daze Farm in Ocala for a short break before returning to action later this month at Pimlico or Arlington. “I told her she’s going to race one more year,” Hoffman said. “Really, she tells me by how she is feeling. Her wheels are like a 2-year-old’s. I’ve babied her since she started, kept her off sloppy racetracks and always pampered her. She is just phenomenal on grass.”
Gee, his former partner, died about a year-and-a-half ago. Hoffman said Hooh Why’s 3-year-old half-sister, Alwayslookingforme, is nearing her career debut after breezing four furlongs last week at Tampa Bay Downs in 48 1/5 seconds. “She will have some big shoes to fill,” he said.
Hooh Why’s winning time was an impressive 1:34.65. “Tampa Bay Downs has been so good to me, and they have done a great job getting this turf course ready,” said Hoffman, a winter resident of Tampa.
CHURCHILL CARD QUALITY-LADEN
Back to Saturday’s graded action at Churchill: Four of the 11 entrants in the Grade I, $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes – which is the 10th race on the Churchill Downs card – have seen action at Tampa Bay Downs, with the Todd Pletcher-trained 5-year-old Doubles Partner winning the 2011 Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes.
Race No. 6 at Churchill Downs on Saturday, the Grade III, $125,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes, boasts a field of 12 horses that includes the past two winners of the Turf Dash Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Great Attack, a 5-year-old who won this season’s running for trainer Wesley Ward, finished second the previous year to Bridgetown, the 6-5 favorite who is trained by Todd Pletcher.
Another horse that excelled on the Tampa Bay Downs turf this season is Federation, who returns to action Saturday at Belmont in the Grade III, $150,000 Beaugay Stakes. The 4-year-old English-bred filly won twice here for trainer Christophe Clement before her second-place finish March 10 to Zagora in the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes.
ALLIE’S EVENT FACES TOUGH TEST
Meanwhile, an abundance of quality runners are set to entertain Tampa Bay Downs patrons while anticipation builds throughout the day toward the Derby. Saturday’s local feature is the ninth race, the $30,500 Lambholm South Race of the Week at a mile on the turf, and has attracted a full field of 10 older horses (plus two also-eligibles).
The morning-line favorite at 3-1 is Lori Smock’s 6-year-old gelding Allie’s Event, who will be seeking his eighth lifetime victory under jockey Danny Coa. The graded-stakes placed Florida-bred finished a good fourth in the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes on Feb. 25 and has finished first or second in seven of nine tries on the Tampa Bay Downs.
Others likely to receive plenty of wagering support in the deep field include Grade II stakes-placed Sette E Mezzo; stakes winners Oligarch and Riversrunrylee; Lethal Combination, winner of the Grade III Saranac Stakes at Saratoga in 2010; and Capitol Appeal, third in the 2010 Ohio Derby.
Jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr. rode three winners on Friday’s card: Hooh Why and a pair for trainer Gerald Bennett, 6-year-old gelding Street Contender in the first race and 4-year-old filly Gilhooly’s Super in the ninth. Allen has ridden 74 winners this season, second to the 88 posted by Leandro Goncalves.
Alexander Reznikov, an established jockey in Poland before coming to the United States, won his first race in North America on Friday, piloting 57-1 shot Flying Ball to victory in the seventh race for owner Glockenburg LLC and trainer Olga Nowak in the 3-year-old colt’s career debut.
Post time on Sunday, the final day of the 2011-12 meeting, is 12:40 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.