by Mike Henry

Tampa Bay Downs’ version of “March Madness” is nine days away: Festival Day 35, featuring the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-old Triple Crown candidates at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main dirt surface.

Carpe Diem, a Grade I winner as a 2-year-old and the 2014 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up, is expected to make his 2015 debut in the Oldsmar showcase on Saturday, March 7.

The first 7,500 fans entering the gates will receive a beach towel with the new track logo, with paid admission.

Two Grade III turf races for females are also on the Festival Day program: the $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth and the $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-an-eighth.

The fourth stakes race on the Festival card is the $60,000 Challenger Stakes for older horses at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track.

Reserved seats are available for the Festival Day celebration. For information on seating, call the Admissions Department at (813) 855-4401.

The Tampa Bay Derby is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, a points system that will help to determine the field for the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on May 2 at Churchill Downs.

The Road to the Kentucky Derby is comprised of a series of 35 designated races at tracks around the world, with points awarded to the top four finishers in each race. The 20 horses with the most points earn a spot in the starting gate for the Run for the Roses.

The Tampa Bay Derby – which has produced a pair of Kentucky Derby champions in its 2007 winner, Street Sense, and its 2010 third-place finisher, Super Saver – offers 50-20-10-5 points to its top four.

On today’s card, 74-1 shot Uisneach and jockey Gary Wales swept past favorite Jamaica Bay in deep stretch in the seventh race, posting a half-length victory in the maiden claiming event on the turf to produce the biggest $2 win mutuel of the meeting ($150.20).

Uisneach, who was making her third career start, is a 5-year-old New York-bred mare owned by her breeder, Owen Kiernan. John Fennessy is the trainer.

The $2 trifecta combination of 7-6-10 paid $9,747.60 and the $1 superfecta combination of 7-6-10-9 paid $25,107.60.

Wales, who is from Edinburgh, Scotland, has ridden Uisneach in each of her starts. The Hill of Uisneach is an ancient ceremonial site in County Westmeath, Ireland.

Two first-time starters that won on today’s card were claimed from their respective races. Third-race winner Lady Supreme – a 3-year-old filly previously owned by Horseshoe Farm, trained by James C. Kirk and ridden by Rosemary Homeister, Jr. – was claimed by new trainer George Leonard, III for new owner Michael S. Warpool.

Rbandzmakeherdance, a 4-year-old filly who won the fifth race for previous owner Averill Racing, LLC and trainer Kirk Ziadie, was claimed by owner-trainer Christos Gatis. Rbandzmakeherdance was ridden by Antonio Gallardo.

The track’s leading rider, Gallardo also won the ninth and final race on the turf on 3-year-old filly Lady Fog Horn for breeder-owner The Elkstone Group, LLC and trainer Anthony J. Granitz.

 Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:40 p.m.

Next week marks the return to a four-days-a-week racing schedule, with action on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (with the exception of Easter, April 5, when the track is closed).

Three Card Poker in Silks Poker Room. Three Card Poker has arrived in The Silks Poker Room. The new game offers players the opportunity to go head-to-head against a player-banker who banks all the bets.

The minimum blind bet is $5 and the maximum is $500. After the cards are dealt, players have the option of folding or calling, which requires a bet equal to their blind bet.

The player-banker hand has to show Queen-high or better to open, or the player automatically wins their blind-bet wager. Blind bonuses are paid for hands of a straight or higher, when they beat the player-banker’s hand.

Additionally, players have the option to place an additional $5 Pair Plus (“Jackpot”) bet before the cards are dealt. A winning Pair Plus bet pays 1x for a pair, 3x for a flush, 6x for a straight, 30x for three-of-a-kind and 40x for a straight flush. An A-K-Q of spades, or “Spade Mini Royal,” pays the entire Progressive Three Card Poker Jackpot (a minimum of $5,000).