The fourth and final leg of the Tampa Turf Test Starter Handicap Series highlights an 11-race card Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, while The Downs Golf Practice Facility celebrates its 10th anniversary with numerous specials and discounts.
Both of the Tampa Turf Test races will be contested for purses of $27,000 over a distance of a mile-and-three-eighths, with the Fillies and Mares Division the fourth race of the day and the Colts and Geldings Division the eighth race. Post time for the first race is about 12:35 p.m.
Tampa Bay Downs also offers full-card simulcasting from across the country, including major preps for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks from Turfway Park: the Grade III Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Racing Spiral Stakes for 3-year-olds, in which the Mark Casse-trained Uncaptured (6-for-7 lifetime) is the morning-line favorite; and the Grade III Fathead Bourbonette Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, featuring the Kenneth McPeek-trained Pure Fun.
Back to the Tampa Turf Test races, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward which have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less since Jan. 1, 2012. Both contests feature a number of Thoroughbreds that have displayed considerable recent improvement – none more so than Saffron Hall, a 6-year-old Ontario-bred gelding established as the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the 10-horse Colts and Geldings Division.
In his previous start Feb. 23 in the third leg of the Tampa Turf Test, Saffron Hall posted an impressive front-running victory under jockey Oriana Rossi. It was the first collaboration for Rossi and the horse, claimed from his previous start (also a victory) by current trainer Kenneth Wirth for owner Kenneth Ramsey, whose success with grass horses is well-documented. Rossi rides again.
Second choice in the Colts and Geldings Division is Lethal Combination, a 6-year-old gelding claimed from his most recent start March 9 by trainer Kathleen O’Connell for new owner Robert A. Meier. Lethal Combination will be ridden by Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Daniel Centeno.
Serious racing fans remember Lethal Combination as the winner of the Grade III Saranac Stakes at Saratoga in 2010, when he was trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. He won on the Tampa Bay Downs turf Dec. 15 going a mile-and-an-eighth.
The Fillies and Mares Division has drawn a field of eight, with 4-year-old Audington a possible favorite based on her recent form. Claimed five starts back out of a two-turn dirt victory for a bargain-basement $8,000 price by owner-trainer Cathy Cole Rivera, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Eddington won her next start in a return to turf at odds of 22-1.
After finishing unplaced in a race taken off the turf, Audington returned in the third leg of the Tampa Turf Test, winning under jockey Augusto Marin at 40-1. Cole-Rivera ambitiously placed her next in the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the turf, and although Audington finished seventh, she was beaten only four-and-a-quarter lengths by winner Old Tune. Marin has the riding assignment.
Among others, Audington must contend with 7-year-old mare First Acquital, who won the first leg of the Tampa Turf Test (run on a wet-fast main track) on Dec. 29. Pedro Cotto, Jr., rides First Acquital, who is owned by Blue Top Holdings Stable and trained by Jorge Navarro. Another likely contender is 6-year-old mare Another Smokey, who won this event last year for owner-trainer Joyce Kielty. The stakes-placed Florida-bred will be ridden by Danny Coa.
In the third race Friday, a six-and-a-half furlong claiming contest, 4-year-old filly Exclusive Sarah extended her winning streak to four with a three-and-three-quarter length victory from Zee’s Cure. Exclusive Sarah was 0-for-14 lifetime before arriving in Oldsmar late last year and clearly has found the surroundings to her liking.
Owned by Amaty Racing Stables, trained by Navarro and ridden by Jose Angel Garcia, Exclusive Sarah raced the six-and-a-half furlong distance in 1:18.31.
Garcia also won the fourth race, a maiden claimer, aboard 3-year-old gelding Tiz Time Is Now for owner-trainer Gary G. Jackson.
The Downs Golf Practice Facility will mark its 10th anniversary Saturday with a variety of events. Specials include clinics, free club-fittings and discounts on food, range balls and pro shop merchandise.
Since its 2003 opening, the 22-acre facility has become a year-round destination for golfers of all ages and ability levels, as well as anyone who enjoys playing a few races between sessions on the driving range, short-game area and 8,000-square foot putting green. The fully-lighted complex attracts more than 35,000 visitors a year.
Under the direction of PGA Class A professional Jon Johnson, last month’s third annual Golfest Presented by Tampa Bay Championship drew more than 3,000 attendees, up 40 percent from 2012. The event was highlighted by an appearance by LPGA Tour star Brittany Lincicome. Previous headliners were Annika Sorenstam in 2011 and instructor David Leadbetter in 2012.
The Downs Golf Practice Facility has been ranked among the top-100 ranges in the United States since its debut on Golf Range Magazine’s list in 2004.
The 11th annual Florida Cup Day, Tampa Bay Downs’ annual celebration of the state’s excellence in breeding and raising Thoroughbreds, is Saturday, April 6. The event features six stakes worth $75,000 each for registered Florida-breds.
The action-packed card includes the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies at seven furlongs; the Journeyman Stud Distaff at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on turf; the Sophomore Turf at a mile-and-a-sixteenth; the Besilu Stables Turf Classic at a mile-and-an-eighth; the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore at seven furlongs; and the Hilton Garden Inn Sprint at six furlongs.
Nominations for Florida Cup Day close Saturday at midnight.
The Tampa Bay Downs Division of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America will hold its annual Easter Egg Hunt and Party at 3 p.m. on Tuesday at the Chaplain’s Office on the track’s backside. The event is open to children under 12 whose parents are licensed at the track.
In addition to the Easter Egg Hunt, the event will feature prayer, fellowship, games, refreshments and a visit from the Easter Bunny. Anyone wishing to attend may pick up their free tickets in the Chaplain’s Office.
The chaplaincy will also conduct holiday services Easter Sunday, March 31 and Monday, April 1. An Easter Catholic Mass will be held March 31 in the Chaplain’s Office, with Father Michael Cooper hearing confession at 10:45 a.m., followed by a celebratory Mass at 11:15.
Worship and communion service will be held at 6 p.m. on April 1 in observance of Easter and the Resurrection, also in the Chaplain’s Office. For details on any of these events, call (813) 855-4401, ext. 1276.