Race goers who can’t make it to the Bluegrass State for the 139th Kentucky Derby should plan to attend Tampa Bay Downs the weekend of May 4-5.
Undefeated 3-year-old colt Verrazano, the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby winner on March 9 from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, could be the third winner of the Run for the Roses to emerge from the Oldsmar showcase since 2007. Such a result would set off a celebration unrivaled in the history of the track founded in 1926 as Tampa Downs – fittingly, with famed Churchill Downs President and Kentucky Derby promoter Matt Winn in charge of the inaugural 39-day meet.
Street Sense used his 2007 Tampa Bay Derby victory as a springboard to victory at Churchill Downs, while Super Saver – trained by Pletcher – finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby before winning the Kentucky Derby under Calvin Borel, also Street Sense’s jockey.
Verrazano, who won the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct last weekend, will be ridden in the Derby by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, if he is recovered from a fractured rib and chipped wrist bone incurred in a spill at Aqueduct on Sunday. Velazquez has been cleared to return to action May 1.
But Tampa Bay Downs fans will also have the option of cheering for Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Java's War, the Kenneth McPeek-trained 3-year-old whose stirrring last-to-first comeback in the Grade I, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday under jockey Julien Leparoux already is the talk of the Twitter universe. Is Tampa Bay Downs destined to have a winner, a runner-up and a third-place finisher from its biggest race wear the roses on the first Saturday in May?
Numerous festivities and events are being planned for the big weekend, which will bring the 87th season of Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs to a close. Fans are encouraged to join the fun by participating in the traditions that help to make the Derby such a beloved spectacle, such as sipping on a refreshing mint julep or entering the hat contest under the tent in the Backyard Picnic Area.
May 5 is Fan Appreciation Day, with free admission and food and beverages at discounted prices. And of course, Tampa Bay Downs will present two quality-laden cards of exciting Thoroughbred action.
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, which are inscribed with the name of each Derby winner from Aristides in 1875 through I’ll Have Another in 2012.
Danny Coa rode two winners Saturday, giving him six over the past two days. Saintly Love, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Robert Gerczak and trained by Carlos Garcia, looked to be feeling mighty good both during and after his victory under Coa in the featured 10th race, the mile-and-a-sixteenth Lambholm South Race of the Week on the turf. It was the third consecutive allowance/optional claiming race victory for Saintly Love.
Coa came back in the 11th to sweep the late daily double on 5-year-old horse Sturgis, who came from far back to win the six-furlong maiden claiming contest. Sturgis, a Louisiana-bred making his first start, is owned by Carolyn Kirk and trained by Jeffrey C. Kirk. He paid $61.40 to win.
A day after being taken to the hospital following a spill, Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Daniel Centeno rode 3-year-old gelding Excellent Chance to a come-from-behind victory in Saturday’s eighth race, a 1-mile maiden special weight contest on the turf, for breeders-owners Ron Magers and Bob Marcocchio and trainer Anthony Granitz.
Centeno, who was released late Friday afternoon, is bidding to win a record fifth track riding title. The victory was his 78th of the meet, 11 more than runner-up Fernando De La Cruz, who also rode one winner Saturday. There are 12 racing days remaining; the track is on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule, with the exception of Wednesday, May 1, when there is simulcasting only.
Sunday’s 10-race card begins at about 12:40 p.m. The first race, a seven-furlong claiming event, features the return to action of 2011 Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Crimson Knight, who is trained by Gerald Bennett and will be ridden by Ademar Santos.
Saturday at Keeneland, Last Full Measure, a 5-year-old mare who finished third in the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 2, staged a furious late rally to win the Grade I, $300,000 Madison Stakes at seven furlongs on the all-weather track. Owned by St. George Farm Racing, LLC and trained by Philip Oliver, Last Full Measure was ridden to victory by Corey Nakatani and paid $37.60 to win.
From now through May 4, 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.
Sundays and Thursdays are double-ticket days. The drawing for the 4Runner will be held 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.