The 1971 Inaugural Handicap at Florida Downs shaped up as a publicity director’s wildest dream.
Owner Robert Lehmann had entered the 1970 Kentucky Derby winner, Dust Commander, for the Opening Day (on Jan. 8) mile-and-70-yard feature, which offered purse money of $2,200 – total. A crowd of as many as 7,000 was expected for the first-ever appearance of a reigning Run for the Roses champion at the Oldsmar oval.
Mike Manganello, who had won five consecutive Florida Downs jockey titles before his historic triumph aboard Dust Commander under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs, was scheduled to ride the likely prohibitive favorite.
Unfortunately for local racing followers, Lehmann scratched Dust Commander because of a low blood count – and not, as was whispered, because of a weight impost of 128 pounds, 11 more than his nearest rival.
Although trainer Ike Mourar (who had taken over the reins from Derby-winning conditioner Don Combs) “didn’t rule out the possibility” of a later appearance by Dust Commander, according to St. Petersburg Times reporter Fred Girard, Tampa Bay area fans never were treated to the sight of Dust Commander in competition.
Thus, another 36 years would pass before fans of Tampa Bay Downs (the track’s name change took place in 1980) got an “up close and personal” look at a Kentucky Derby winner; this time, before the fact, as the Carl Nafzger-trained Street Sense and jockey Calvin Borel defeated Any Given Saturday by a nose on their path to Kentucky Derby glory.
Three years later, Super Saver used a third-place Tampa Bay Derby finish as a springboard to a victory in the Kentucky Derby, again with Borel in the saddle, for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Entering Saturday’s 141st edition of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, Street Sense and Super Saver remain the only Thoroughbreds to compete at Tampa Bay Downs and win a Kentucky Derby.
That could change Saturday, even though neither of the Oldsmar graduates in the field has the initials ‘S.S.’
The 3-year-old colt Carpe Diem, who won the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 7 by five lengths, is the 8-1 third choice on the morning line for the mile-and-a-quarter classic, behind 5-2 American Pharoah and 3-1 Dortmund.
Carpe Diem, owned by Stonestreet Stables and WinStar Farm and trained by Pletcher, will break from the No. 2 post in the 20-horse field. He has the services of Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who won the 2011 Kentucky Derby on Animal Kingdom.
The other Tampa Bay Derby participant set to vie for the roses is Danzig Moon, who finished fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby before improving to second in the Grade I Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 4 – only three lengths behind Carpe Diem.
Owned by John C. Oxley, who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos, Danzig Moon is trained by Mark Casse and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux. The Ontario-bred colt has the No. 5 post.
The Kentucky Derby will be contested at about 6:24 p.m. as the 11th race on a Churchill Downs card that will be simulcast at Tampa Bay Downs in its entirety.
Each year, the Oldsmar oval replicates an authentic Run for the Roses atmosphere with a full card of Thoroughbred competition; parties large and small throughout the track; beautiful women in their spring dresses and finest hats; and the sale of mint juleps, the traditional beverage of the Kentucky Derby, in souvenir glasses.
Saturday promises to be one of the most festive celebrations ever. Tampa Bay Downs will present a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m., headlined by the seventh race, a seven-furlong allowance/$32,000 optional claiming event for horses 4-years-old-and-upward with a purse of $24,000.
The eight-horse field includes the Kathleen O’Connell-trained 4-year-old colt Lake Drive South, who won the Florida Cup Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint here on April 4, and Grey by You, the Ron Potts-trained 5-year-old gelding who captured the Oldsmar Cup Allowance on April 12.
The action from Churchill Downs will begin at 10:30 a.m., and Tampa Bay Downs followers will have several intriguing wagering opportunities before the Kentucky Derby with horses that have competed at the Oldsmar oval this season.
Start with the 10th race, the Grade I, $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and 6-year-old mare Stephanie’s Kitten, who won the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes here on the turf on March 7 in her seasonal debut.
Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s homebred will take on a field of 11 male opponents in the mile-and-an-eighth test. She is trained by Chad Brown and will be ridden by Velazquez.
Tampa Bay Downs trainer David Hinsley is in search of Grade I glory in Saturday’s seventh race, the Grade I, $300,000 Humana Distaff at seven furlongs, with his 5-year-old mare You Bought Her, which he owns in partnership with Richard Perkins. You Bought Her will be ridden by Corey Lanerie.
You Bought Her won the $50,000 Minaret Stakes here on Feb. 21, then finished second, beaten a neck by Classic Point, on March 21 in the Grade II Inside Information Stakes at Gulfstream. Her foes in the Humana Distaff include 6-year-old Judy the Beauty, the reigning Eclipse Award Champion Female Sprinter, from the barn of Wesley Ward.
Churchill’s sixth race, the Grade II, $250,000 American Turf for 3-year-olds, includes two horses who saw action in Oldsmar. The Mark Casse-trained World Approval won the Florida Cup Sophomore Turf here on April 4, while the Pletcher-trained Royal Son finished seventh in the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes before winning the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway on Feb. 28.
Tampa Bay Downs will open the gates at 10 a.m. on Saturday. 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 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.
More on the Oldsmar-Louisville connection. Just for fun, here is a record of the other Tampa Bay Downs graduates besides Street Sense and Super Saver to compete in the Kentucky Derby, and the outcomes:
1982 – Reinvested (won Tampa Bay Derby, 3rd Kentucky Derby). 1983 – Slew o’ Gold (2nd Tampa Bay Derby, 4th Kentucky Derby). 1984 – Rexson’s Hope (2nd Tampa Bay Derby, 10th Kentucky Derby). 1988 – Cefis (won Tampa Bay Derby, 8th Kentucky Derby).
1992 – West by West (6th Tampa Bay Derby, 11th Kentucky Derby). 1998 – Parade Ground (won Tampa Bay Derby, 6th Kentucky Derby); Rock and Roll (3rd 1997 Inaugural Stakes as 2-year-old, 2nd Sam F. Davis Stakes, 3rd Tampa Bay Derby, 14th Kentucky Derby). 1999 – Menifee (2nd Tampa Bay Derby, 2nd Kentucky Derby).
2000 – Wheelaway (won Tampa Bay Derby, 5th Kentucky Derby); Impeachment (2nd Tampa Bay Derby, 3rd Kentucky Derby). 2004 – Limehouse (won Tampa Bay Derby, 4th Kentucky Derby); The Cliff’s Edge (2nd Sam F. Davis, 5th Kentucky Derby). 2005 – Sun King (won Tampa Bay Derby, 15th Kentucky Derby); Andromeda’s Hero (won Sam F. Davis, 8th Kentucky Derby).
2006 – Deputy Glitters (won Tampa Bay Derby, 8th Kentucky Derby); Bluegrass Cat (won Sam F. Davis, 2nd Tampa Bay Derby, 2nd Kentucky Derby); Storm Treasure (6th Tampa Bay Derby, 11th Kentucky Derby); Seaside Retreat (5th Sam F. Davis, 10th Kentucky Derby). 2007 – STREET SENSE (WON TAMPA BAY DERBY, WON KENTUCKY DERBY); Any Given Saturday (won Sam F. Davis, 2nd Tampa Bay Derby, 8th Kentucky Derby). 2008 – Big Truck (won Tampa Bay Derby, 18th Kentucky Derby); Smooth Air (3rd Sam F. Davis, 11th Kentucky Derby). 2009 – Musket Man (won Pasco Stakes, 3rd Sam F. Davis, won Tampa Bay Derby, 3rd Kentucky Derby); General Quarters (2nd 2008 Inaugural Stakes as 2-year-old, 2nd Pasco Stakes, won Sam F. Davis, 5th Tampa Bay Derby, 10th Kentucky Derby); Join in the Dance (2nd Tampa Bay Derby, 7th Kentucky Derby); Nowhere to Hide (4th Tampa Bay Derby, 17th Kentucky Derby); Atomic Rain (7th Sam F. Davis, 16th Kentucky Derby).
2010 – SUPER SAVER (3rd TAMPA BAY DERBY, WON KENTUCKY DERBY). 2011 – Watch Me Go (won Tampa Bay Derby, 18th Kentucky Derby). 2012 – Prospective (won Pasco Stakes, 2nd Sam F. Davis, won Tampa Bay Derby, 18th Kentucky Derby). 2013 – Verrazano (won Tampa Bay Derby, 14th Kentucky Derby); Falling Sky (won Sam F. Davis, 3rd Tampa Bay Derby, 19th Kentucky Derby); Java’s War (2nd Tampa Bay Derby, 13th Kentucky Derby); Harry’s Holiday (5th Pasco Stakes, 16th Kentucky Derby). 2014 – Vinceremos (won Sam F. Davis, 2nd Tampa Bay Derby, 17th Kentucky Derby).