A revamped Festival Day celebration featuring three graded races worth $700,000; three cards offering three major stakes apiece; and a record $2,695,000 in purse money highlight a stellar stakes schedule for the 2013-14 racing season, which continues on Wednesday, Dec. 4.
The centerpiece of the meeting is the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, a traditional stepping stone to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. Oldsmar’s showcase for budding 3-year-old stars will be joined on the blockbuster March 8 Festival Day card by the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on the turf course and the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares, also on the turf.
The Florida Oaks is one of three Tampa Bay Downs stakes to boast a purse increase, up $50,000 from its previous level. The Oaks has been moved on the calendar from early February to accompany the Tampa Bay Derby for the first time since 2010, creating the most lucrative day in track annals.
“With three graded stakes alone offering $700,000 in purses, we can confidently say March 8 will be one of our best days ever,” said Tampa Bay Downs General Manager Peter Berube.
“Moving the Florida Oaks to Festival Day enables us to showcase many of the country’s best 3-year-olds of both sexes – as well as some of the sport’s top older female turf stars in the Hillsborough – on a single afternoon,” Berube said. “This will generate a heightened level of excitement for our long-time fans, simulcast bettors and individuals who are new to the sport.”
Tampa Bay Downs’ 88th season features 25 stakes, with six graded events scheduled for the second consecutive season. Increases of $25,000 each for of the track’s two turf sprints – the Jan. 25 Lightning City Stakes for older fillies and mares and the March 1 Turf Dash for horses 3-and-upward – give Tampa Bay Downs 11 races worth at least $100,000 in purses for the first time.
As a part of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, the Tampa Bay Derby awards qualifying points to the first four finishers (50-20-10-5) toward entry into the Run for the Roses on May 3. The Tampa Bay Derby has produced two Kentucky Derby winners in the past seven years: Street Sense in 2007 and Super Saver in 2010.
Last year, for the first time, the top three finishers in the Tampa Bay Derby – Verrazano, Java’s War and Falling Sky – competed at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. Since leaving Oldsmar, Verrazano has won a pair of Grade I races, the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth, while Java’s War captured the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland.
The second-biggest day on the Tampa Bay Downs 2013-14 calendar is the Feb. 1 Festival Preview Day program, featuring the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, the major local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby.
Festival Preview Day features a new look with the addition of the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for older horses on the turf, switched from its previous mid-February date. Rounding out the Feb. 1 three-stakes card is the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the main track, previously contested in March.
“The Sam F. Davis Stakes has produced at least one Kentucky Derby starter in nine of the last 10 years,” Berube noted. “By shifting the graded Tampa Bay Stakes and the Suncoast to our Festival Preview Day program, we are creating another day of top-quality action for anyone interested in Thoroughbred racing.”
Tampa Bay Downs’ other graded contest is the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf on Jan. 25. The Endeavour is part of another three-stakes card, including the now-$100,000 Lightning City Stakes and the $60,000 Pelican Stakes sprint for horses 4-and-upward on the main track.
On April 5, Tampa Bay Downs will stage its 12th annual Florida Cup Day celebration, which offers six $75,000 stakes races for registered Florida-bred horses. State breeders, owners and trainers have helped to make Florida Cup Day one of the most rewarding and enjoyable afternoons of the meeting, and many of the Florida Cup winners have gone on to enjoy outstanding success elsewhere.
The 2013-14 stakes schedule kicks off Dec. 7 – Cotillion Festival Day – with a pair of $75,000 2-year-old races: the Inaugural Stakes for colts and geldings and the Sandpiper Stakes for fillies.