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November 20, 2019


by Mike Henry
Promotional calendar has something for everyone; TVG's Matt Carothers takes over handicapping duties; Ultimate 6 wager added to menu; stakes schedule offers $3.51-million in purse money; defending training champ Gerald Bennett, top jockey Samy Camacho back to defend.

A nine-race card and the introduction of the Ultimate 6 wager herald the return of Thoroughbred racing to Tampa Bay Downs on Wednesday. Admission is free.

The track is celebrating its 94th anniversary season with a boatload of activities and promotions planned throughout the 90-day meeting to enhance the equine energy:

Oldsmar oval visitors will notice a new face picking the races and providing handicapping information: TVG analyst Matt Carothers, a lifelong fan and racing follower.

Carothers, TVG’s first on-the-air handicapper in 1999, will present his selections over the Tampa Bay Downs closed-circuit telecast each racing day. Before joining TVG, he worked for three years as the on-track handicapper and TV host at Canterbury Park in Minnesota; at Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands in New Jersey; and for New York City OTB, partnering with track announcer Dave Johnson.

Carothers says he looks for natural speed and value for his buck when handicapping and wagering, and he is eager to offer his angles on profiting from the consistently large Tampa Bay Downs fields.

Bettors should expect Carothers to pay close attention to the track’s exciting new wager: the Ultimate 6, requiring bettors to select the winners of the day's concluding six races.

The minimum Ultimate 6 wager is 20 cents. Because of the wager’s carryover jackpot format, the Ultimate 6 could be a life-changer for one or more bettors. For anyone to collect the jackpot on a given day, they must have the only ticket correctly selecting all six winners. Otherwise, 75 percent of the pari-mutuel pool will be split between those bettors selecting the greatest number of first-place finishers, with the remainder added to the carryover jackpot the next day.

Tampa Bay Downs is closed Thursday for Thanksgiving, but a nine-race card is scheduled Friday.

The Saturday program offers fans chances galore to win cash and prizes.

In addition to the racing action, the meeting’s first Saturday is “Tampa Bay Sport Day,” with in-the-know fans having an opportunity to win tickets to various professional and college events by correctly answering trivia questions and spinning a prize wheel.

Tickets will be awarded for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Lightning, the Rays, the Outback Bowl, the Gasparilla Bowl, USF men’s and women’s basketball and the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship.

Saturday also marks the start of the popular “10 Days of Festivus On-Line Handicapping Contest,” which runs through Dec. 21. There is no charge to enter and the winner receives a $1,000 cash prize, with second prize $500.

The Festivus contest allows fans and bettors to test their skills against the best Oldsmar oval handicappers from across the nation. Go to for rules and to enter.

 The primary focus throughout the winter and spring, as always, will be on the racetrack, where excitement has been building to a fever pitch the last three weeks during morning workouts.

A stakes schedule that gets underway on Dec. 7 with a pair of $100,000, 6-furlong races for 2-year-olds will be highlighted by the March 7 Festival Day program, featuring the 40th edition of the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-old Kentucky Derby prospects at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth.

The first four finishers in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby earn qualifying points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby.”

Also part of the Festival Day program are a pair of big-money graded races on the turf course: the Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares and the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.

The track’s three other graded stakes will be contested on Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South, Feb. 8: the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds, the Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for older horses on the turf and the Grade III, $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf.

The Sam F. Davis awards points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” to the first four finishers, while that day’s $150,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies awards points on the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” to the first four finishers.

Florida Cup Day is March 29, with six stakes on both dirt and turf offering $110,000 apiece to the connections of registered Florida-bred horses.

Almost all of the track’s top trainers and jockeys have returned. Heading a powerful training contingent are Gerald Bennett, who has won the last four conditioner titles and five overall; last year’s runner-up, two-time track champion Kathleen O’Connell; third-place finisher Michael Stidham, who is one shy of 2,000 career victories; and 2019 Breeders’ Cup-winning trainers Ignacio Correas, IV and H. Graham Motion.

Leading jockeys set to compete include defending champion Samy Camacho; four-time kingpin Antonio Gallardo; six-time champion Daniel Centeno; and Pablo Morales.

Tampa Bay Downs races on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with Sundays added to the mix on Dec. 22. A special Thursday card will be offered on Dec. 26.

The track is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.