OLDSMAR, FL. – In a matter of moments Saturday, the 875-mile distance between Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., and Tampa Bay Downs evaporatedLess than five minutes after the 11th and final race on the Oldsmar card, the University of Louisville Marching Band serenaded the throng at Churchill – and 10,311 Thoroughbred lovers at Tampa Bay Downs, through the magic of simulcasting – with the traditional strains of “My Old Kentucky Home,” signaling the post parade to the 139th edition of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
If you were at Tampa Bay Downs, you no doubt felt the pulse-quickening electricity surging from the Bluegrass State.
Although a majority of those in attendance at Tampa Bay Downs were pulling for Verrazano, Java’s War or Falling Sky – the top three finishers in the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 9 – just being part of the Kentucky Derby Day spectacle and Orb’s awe-inspiring victory, for most, was reward enough.
Outside the world of Thoroughbred racing, the buildup to a sporting event that lasts slightly more than two minutes might seem absurd.
But one of the strongest attributes the Sport of Kings possesses is its ability to win converts in a heartbeat. By mid-afternoon on Kentucky Derby Day, first-time Tampa Bay Downs visitor Lisa Guadan was hooked.
Guadan was part of a 43-member contingent from the Admiral Valverde Krewe of the Conquistadors of Tampa Bay, a group that has held its Kentucky Derby Party here 11 consecutive years to revel in the grace, majesty and power of racehorses. The Admiral Valverde Krewe were part of a festive crowd of 10,311 at Tampa Bay Downs, one of the 10-largest crowds in track history and the third-largest ever on a Kentucky Derby Day.
“It’s an awesome, incredible experience,” Guadan said. “The people, the atmosphere and the excitement – it’s an adrenaline rush. You just want to jump up and scream and cheer for the horses you bet for.”
As is its custom, the Admiral Valverde Krewe watched the races from the veranda while dressed in stylish dresses, suits and hats. The Krewe also lent its name to the seventh race, which was won by Janice Toulon’s 3-year-old filly Kentonia.
A non-profit organization, the Admiral Valverde Krewe recently held a “Happy Heart Party” at Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of Winter, the dolphin), which was attended by 230 guests with family members who have dealt with some kind of heart condition. The group also works to benefit the Pediatric Cardiac Care Program of All Children’s Hospital.
But on the first Saturday in May, it puts aside its charitable endeavors to enjoy the nation’s oldest continuous sports event.
“The Kentucky Derby Party has been a part of our heritage now for over a decade,” said the group’s Admiral, Steven Schwerman. “A lot of our female members start looking for their Derby dresses and hats five months before the race, and we love being a part of it.
“Tampa Bay Downs always takes good care of us. I’m sure we will continue to sponsor a race as long as we have the opportunity to do so.”
In addition to the overwhelming good feelings ensuing from Orb’s victory – owners Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable are among the sport’s most legendary names, and trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey is a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame – it is worth noting winning jockey Joel Rosario won three stakes at Tampa Bay Downs this season: the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour and the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough on 5-year-old Old Tune, and the Grade III, $150,000 Florida Oaks on Tapicat. Rosario won a stunning 38 races from 106 starts at the recent Keeneland meet.
Total handle on the Tampa Bay Downs card was $6,091,753, of which more than $5.1-million was from outside Florida.
Trainer Lynne Scace sent out three winners on Saturday’s card. In the third race, her 4-year-old filly Pica Pica overcame the outside No. 12 post to win the six-and-a-half furlong maiden claiming event. Francisco Maysonett rode Pica Pica, who is owned by Marco A. Castaneda and Carlos Uriostegui-Nunez.
Scace’s 4-year-old filly Blameitonthegoose broke her maiden in the fifth race, another six-and-a-half furlong contest. Dean Butler was aboard the winner for owners Uriostegui-Nunez and Juan H. Chavez, Jr. In the 11th and final race, again a six-and-a-half furlong affair, Scace’s reliable 7-year-old gelding Silver Tuxedo defeated 10 rivals under Maysonett. Silver Tuxedo is owned by Martha Borchetta and Martin and Robert Silver.
Jockey Dean Butler joined Maysonett in riding two winners. In addition to Blameitonthegoose, Butler won the 10th race on 4-year-old filly West Pointer for owner Bailey Bolen and trainer Bernell Rhone.
Lucie Herkova notched her first victory of the season Saturday, urging 5-year-old gelding Jim N John to an upset victory in the fourth race, a mile-and-a-sixteenth maiden claiming contest. Jim N John was bred in Florida by his owner, Linda Rosenblatt, and is trained by Ronald Gaffney. The winner paid $24.20.
Sunday’s 11-race Fan Appreciation Day card begins at 12:30 p.m. The featured race is the ninth, a $20,200 conditional allowance at 1 mile on the turf for horses 3-years-old-and-upward.
The morning-line favorite at 5-2 in the 10-horse field is the Dennis Manning-owned and trained 4-year-old colt Crafty Unicorn, who won the 2012 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Championship Colt and Gelding Division Stakes in his career debut and finished third in the Florida Cup Sophomore Turf at Tampa Bay Downs and the Lamplighter and Jersey Derby at Monmouth. Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Daniel Centeno is slated to ride.
There is free admission Sunday, along with $1 hot dogs, sodas and draft beers from noon-3 p.m. Monday marks the beginning of an eight-week hiatus in the 2012-13 meet, which officially concludes on June 30 with a full card of Thoroughbred racing.
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.