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November 30, 2018


by Mike Henry
There is so much more to horse racing than scoping out an exacta, and Tampa Bay Downs wants to bring dyed-in-the-wool and casual fans alike closer to the sport.

The Tampa Bay Downs events calendar swings into full gear Saturday with the start of the “10 Days of Festivus Challenge” handicapping contest, an online event that awards $1,000 to the winner and $500 to the runner-up.

There is no charge to enter. Players must register by 10:30 a.m. on Saturday on the Internet at to be eligible to compete.

The “10 Days of Festivus Challenge,” which runs through Dec. 22, requires players to select a horse in one of each day’s “Challenge Races,” with results determined from a $2 mythical win-place-show wager on their choice.

Each player begins the contest with a free lifeline. Should a player’s selection fail to hit the board or the player does not make a selection for any reason, the player loses a lifeline. Additional lifelines are available for purchase throughout the duration of the contest. Losing all available lifelines eliminates a player from further participation in the contest.

For the complete rules and to register, visit the website.

Tampa Bay Downs will introduce several new promotions this season, and one that has already captured widespread interest is the Dec. 8 “Tampa Bay Owners Club,” in which fans will get a chance to realize their dream of Thoroughbred ownership, without the financial risk.

On that day, fans will be asked to select the winner of a designated race by filling out an entry blank and depositing it in the receptacle corresponding to their choice. Anyone who picks the winner becomes part of “the syndicate” – a group of fantasy owners who get to experience many of the perks associated with the sport of kings.

Each time the horse returns to action during the meeting, its new “owners” will receive free admission, a program, a mutuel voucher, concession-stand discounts and an attractive pin. They will also be invited to the paddock before the race and, in case of another victory, the winner’s circle. It’s an ideal way to learn about ownership and meet new people.

Dec. 15 is Cotillion Festival Day, with four stakes races on tap, including two sponsored by the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association. Also scheduled that day is the “Touch Vodka Brunch at the Downs,” beginning at 9 a.m. under the Trackside Picnic Pavilion Tent.

The cost is $8, which includes Grandstand admission and a Tampa Bay Downs program. Fans can watch morning workouts and meet with horsemen and jockeys. It’s an action-packed day offering $450,000 in stakes purse money alone.

Beginning Dec. 26, Tampa Bay Downs will distribute its 2019 calendar, featuring photography from some of the area’s top photojournalists. Always a popular item and a New Year’s Eve stocking stuffer, the calendar will be given out free of charge with paid admission, while supplies last.

To be honest, January is not far away, and on Jan. 5 Tampa Bay Downs will honor servicemen and servicewomen with “Military Appreciation Day.” Active and retired personnel will be admitted free of charge as we salute their contributions to the American way of life.

Other special events after the New Year’s holiday include the Jan. 12 “College Day,” in which current college students and high school seniors pursuing a post-secondary education vie for one of five $2,000 scholarships as Tampa Bay Downs partners with the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce Educational Foundation; a “High Rollers Handicapping Contest” on Jan. 19, offering a $20,000 first prize (based on 100 players) and seats for the top two finishers at a future Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas; and “Cap Giveaway Day” on Jan. 26.

More details will be forthcoming on these and other fun promotions in subsequent press releases.

Stakes schedule kicks off. The most lucrative stakes schedule in Tampa Bay Downs history gets underway Saturday with the 15th editions of the $100,000 Turf Dash and the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes, both at a distance of 5 furlongs on the grass course.

This season’s stakes schedule consists of 28 races worth an aggregate $3.74-million.

The Turf Dash, for horses 3-years-old-and-upward, has drawn a field of 10 headed by 8-year-od gelding Pay Any Price, who holds the world record of 53.61 seconds for the distance on the turf, set last year at Gulfstream Park. Pay Any Price won last year’s Turf Dash and has a 15-for-24 lifetime record.

Regular jockey Edgard Zayas will be aboard for trainer Georgina Baxter. The Turf Dash will be the third race on the card.

Jockey Daniel Centeno has won six of the previous 14 Turf Dashes, and he’ll be gunning for No. 7 on the Arnaud Delacour-trained 3-year-old colt Tricks to Doo. Centeno was aboard when Tricks to Doo won last season’s Inaugural Stakes.

The $100,000 Lightning City Stakes, for fillies and mares 3-and-upward, is slated as the fifth race. Back to defend last season’s title is 4-year-old Smiling Causeway, who is trained by Delacour and will be ridden by Centeno. A full field of 12 runners is expected.

The morning-line favorite for the Lightning City at 3-1 is the George R. “Rusty” Arnold, II-trained 4-year-old Morticia, who will be ridden by Feargal Lynch. Morticia won last year’s Grade III Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes at Keeneland.

Post time for Saturday’s first race is 12:38 p.m.

Around the oval. A pair of late scratches reduced today’s featured seventh race, an allowance/$32,000 optional claiming event, to four horses, but that didn’t detract from another fine performance by the winner, 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding Mr Lightning Boy.

Ridden by regular pilot Ricardo Feliciano, Mr Lightning Boy led from gate to wire to post his 13th victory from 53 starts, to go with 12 seconds and 11 thirds. The winner is owned by MCR Stable and trained by Benny Feliciano, a past leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey. Mr Lightning Boy’s time for the six-and-a-half furlongs on a fast main track was 1:17.16.

The winner’s share of the purse raised Mr Lightning Boy’s career bankroll to $316,371.

Samy Camacho rode two winners today. He won the fifth race aboard 5-year-old Florida-bred mare Mi Tia Christina for breeder-owner-trainer Max Ubide. Camacho added the ninth race on Resident, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by GOP Racing Stable and trained by Gerard Ochoa.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25 for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.