Racing News


by Mike Henry

A festive crowd of Thoroughbred racing enthusiasts, fortune-seekers and fun-lovers is expected to overflow Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday for the 141st edition of “the most exciting two minutes in sports” – the simulcast of the mile-and-a-quarter Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands from Churchill Downs in Louisville.

An unforgettable weekend of non-stop activity gets underway Friday at the Oldsmar oval with a 10-race card beginning at 12:35 p.m., capped by the simulcast of the 141st Longines Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies from Churchill at 5:49 p.m.

Friday’s Tampa Bay Downs card features a Pick-5 carryover pool of $13,007.94.

The 14-horse field for the mile-and-an-eighth Kentucky Oaks includes owners Brereton C. Jones and Timothy C. Thornton’s Kentucky-bred Include Betty, who will be attempting to become the third horse to compete in the Grade III Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs and go on to win the Churchill fillies showcase.

Luv Me Luv Me Not (1992) and Secret Status (2000) both used victories in the Florida Oaks as a springboard to success in Louisville, when the Tampa Bay Downs 3-year-old fillies race was run on the main dirt track. The Florida Oaks was moved to the Oldsmar turf course in 2011.

Include Betty finished fifth in the Florida Oaks on March 7, five weeks after her victory here in the $100,000, mile-and-40-yard Suncoast Stakes on the dirt.

Trainer Tom Proctor moved her back from turf to dirt for the Grade III, mile-and-a-sixteenth Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park on April 4, and Include Betty responded with a thrilling, come-from-behind neck victory to earn her spot in Friday’s $1-million race.

Adding plenty of drama for Oldsmar regulars is the presence of jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr., who has ridden Include Betty in each of her recent starts. Despite competing against Hall of Fame jockeys Mike Smith, John Velazquez and Gary Stevens in the race, Homeister – who will be riding in her first Kentucky Oaks – sounded confident before departing Tampa Bay Downs.

“She proved herself in the Fantasy, and I think she will love the distance,” Homeister said of Include Betty. “The farther they go, the better. She has got heart and determination and a style where she can break, sit back and make one strong run.”

Pointing out that Rosie Napravnik won two of the last three Kentucky Oaks – on Brereton C. Jones’ Believe You Can in 2012 and on Untapable in 2014 – Homeister added, “Rosie paved the way, and we need to keep the Oaks a women’s-domain race.”

The Kentucky Oaks is the 11th race on the card.

The winner of the Florida Oaks, Quality Rocks, will also be in action at Churchill Downs on Friday. Trainer William Mott has entered the Florida-bred in the Grade III, $150,000 Edgewood Stakes, which will be contested on turf as the sixth race on Churchill’s card, with an approximate post time of 1:26 p.m.

Past Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Jose Lezcano will again be aboard Quality Rocks.

All of Friday’s action serves as a warm-up for Thoroughbred racing’s biggest day of the year and the 141st running of the Run for the Roses.

Carpe Diem, winner of the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby here on March 7, will attempt to join Street Sense (who won both races in 2007) and Super Saver (who finished third in the 2010 Tampa Bay Derby before his Run for the Roses triumph) as the third horse to compete in the Tampa Bay Derby and go on to win the Kentucky Derby.

The other Kentucky Derby entrant from the Tampa Bay Derby is fourth-place finisher Danzig Moon, who subsequently finished second to Carpe Diem in the Toyota Blue Grass.

Tampa Bay Downs will open the gates at 10 a.m. on Friday and Saturday to simulcast the entire cards from Churchill Downs. Programs for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks card will be available at 3 p.m. on Thursday.

On Friday, advance wagering on the entire Kentucky Derby card will become available at noon. Programs for the Derby card will be available at 3 p.m. Friday.

The approximate post time for the Kentucky Derby is 6:24 p.m.

Mint juleps will be on sale for $9 each on Derby Day in official Kentucky Derby souvenir glasses, while supplies last. Souvenir glasses ($6) and other Kentucky Derby gift items will be on sale throughout the week in the Gift Shop on the first floor of the grandstand.

Additionally, a fund-raising event will be held on the first floor of the Grandstand on Saturday to benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. Tampa Bay Downs is one of 55 racetracks nationwide participating in the event, in which autographed paintings of racing legends Secretariat (signature by owner Penny Chenery), Zenyatta (jockey Mike Smith), California Chrome (jockey Victor Espinoza) and Wise Dan (jockey John Velazquez) will be available via a silent auction.

The opening bid for each painting will be set at $150 and bids will be accepted in $10 increments.

Today’s action. Ademar Santos rode two maidens to victory, first scoring in the sixth race on 4-year-old filly La Parcela for owner Orlando Barrera and trainer Nestor Cascallares. Santos added the eighth race aboard 3-year-old gelding Popcorn Kitten for owner A R Equine Services and trainer Alex Rendon. Popcorn Kitten paid $35.40 to win.

Leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo earned his 141st victory of the meeting (that number sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) in the first race on 3-year-old filly Red River Heidi for owner Hawk Enterprises, Inc., and trainer Jason DaCosta.

With three days remaining (Gallardo does not plan to return for the official June 30 final day of the 2014-2015 meeting, since he will be riding at Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania), he trails Daniel Centeno’s single-season track record by three.

Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and Three Card Poker in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.