by Mike Henry

Graded stakes-winning Florida-bred mares R Free Roll and Wildcat Lily headline the cast for Saturday’s $50,000 Minaret Stakes, a six-furlong sprint on the Tampa Bay Downs main dirt surface.

Approximate post time for the Minaret, which is the 10th race on an 11-race card, is 5:10 p.m. Post time for the first race is 12:40 p.m.

A full day of Saturday fun begins at 10 a.m. on the first floor of the Grandstand with track announcer Richard Grunder’s “Morning Glory Club” Show, this week featuring the track’s leading apprentice jockey, Janelle Campbell.

Racing fans can hear Campbell’s views on breaking into the competitive Oldsmar jockey colony while enjoying free coffee and donuts. All attendees receive free Grandstand passes.

The Minaret has drawn a field of 14 older fillies and mares, with 5-year-old Florida-bred R Free Roll likely to be the post-time favorite. She is 7-for-19 lifetime with five stakes victories, including a score in last July’s Grade II, six-furlong Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga in 1:10.12 on a sloppy track.

R Free Roll is trained by Kirk Ziadie and will be ridden by leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Antonio Gallardo. She will be making her 2015 debut in the Minaret.

Wildcat Lily, who is trained by Enrique A. Sanchez, posted her biggest victory as a 3-year-old in the Grade III Azalea Stakes at Calder in Miami at the Minaret distance. At that time, she was trained by Manuel Azpurua.

Wildcat Lily followed up that victory with runner-up performances in the Grade I Prioress Stakes and the Grade I Test Stakes, both at Saratoga. She did not win in six 4-year-old starts while competing primarily in stakes company, but appeared to be in top form on Feb. 5 when capturing a starter/$35,000 optional claiming race at Gulfstream by nine-and-a-half lengths.

Wildcat Lily is scheduled to be ridden by Carlos Marquez, Jr.

Other top Minaret contenders include 8-year-old Risky Rachel, a six-time stakes winner who captured last year’s Minaret and Manatee Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs for breeder-owner Sanford Bacon, and Nesso, winner of the 2014 Gasparilla Stakes locally, who has the services of five-time Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Daniel Centeno.

Also likely to be well-regarded at the betting windows are Angel Code, a lightly raced 4-year-old whose previous race was an impressive gate-to-wire triumph five weeks ago at Gulfstream at the Minaret distance; 5-year-old mare Galiana, a multiple stakes-winner who is 11-for-22 lifetime and was third in the Grade III Hurricane Bertie Stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 14; and Puddifoot, a 4-year-old Edward Plesa, Jr., Florida-bred trainee who won a state-bred stakes at Gulfstream as a 2-year-old.

Saturday’s ninth race, a conditional allowance/$32,000 optional claiming event for older fillies and mares going a mile on the turf, boasts several stakes-quality runners among its 10 entrants.

Trainer Tom Proctor will send out an uncoupled entry consisting of 4-year-olds Please Explain and Ceisteach, the latter the morning-line favorite at 3-1. Please Explain will be ridden by Gary Boulanger while Ceisteach has the services of Rosemary Homeister, Jr.

Please Explain won last year’s Suncoast Stakes on the main dirt track at Tampa Bay Downs, but has been idle since a fourth-place finish last August in an allowance/optional claiming event on the grass at Arlington. Ceisteach, who was bred in Ireland, won her North American debut last June on the turf at Arlington and has been training up to Saturday’s appearance.

Other entrants of note in the ninth race are Analog Girl, a Kellyn Gorder-trainee making her first start in almost a year, and My Sweet Dove, trainer Monte Thomas’ 2013 Sandpiper Stakes. Please Explain and My Sweet Dove will both be making their second start on turf.

On today’s card, trainer Jamie Ness and jockey Antonio Gallardo combined for a pair of photo-finish victories. In the first race, 3-year-old filly Tareks Dream won her career debut by a nose from a charging Flatter Me Zanja for the trainer-jockey duo. Tareks Dream is owned by Wayne Scherr.

Ness and Gallardo won the sixth race in come-from-behind fashion with the 6-year-old mare Turnout, who defeated Lil Escape Artist by a neck. Turnout is owned by Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc.

Gallardo, the track’s leading jockey with 78 victories, also took the seventh race on the turf on 8-year-old fan favorite Royal Hill for owner Averill Racing, LLC and trainer Gerald Bennett.

Looking ahead. Reserved seats are available for the March 7 Festival Day celebration, featuring the 35th edition of the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-olds. The race is part of Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands points series.

Also on tap are a pair of graded turf stakes – the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies and the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares – and the $60,000 Challenger Stakes for older horses.

For information on seating, call the Admissions Department at (813) 855-4401.

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