PREVIEW DAY, LIVE IT UP CONTEST OFFER RAIN-SOAKED MASSES A BEACON

by Mike Henry

A pattern of rain, rain and more rain is playing havoc with the Tampa Bay Downs schedule, causing all six of this weekend’s races scheduled for the turf course to be run on the main dirt track.

The long-range forecast (as provided by The Weather Channel) calls for clearing to begin in earnest by midweek, which will certainly be a boost to track officials, employees, horsemen and fans anticipating next Saturday’s Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South, the second-most lucrative day of the meeting.

Sunday’s nine-race card, which begins at 12:45 p.m., includes a carryover pool of $15,142.35 for the Pick-5, since no one hit it today.

Returning to next Saturday: Four stakes races worth an aggregate $650,000 in purse money are on tap on the Feb. 13 card, headlined by the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds, a mile-and-a-sixteenth race on the main track that has produced at least one Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands starter in 10 of the last 12 years.

The Sam F. Davis Stakes is the major prep for the Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 12.

Also scheduled on the Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South program are the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward, going a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf; the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf; and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going a mile-and-40 yards on the main dirt.

Next Saturday also marks the start of the “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest, which offers a grand prize of $1,000 and a seat at the 2017 National Thoroughbred Racing Association/Daily Racing Form National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas.

There is no entry fee. The contest runs through Florida Cup Day, which is April 9. Online registration for the contest begins Wednesday and can be accessed on the track website at www.tampabaydowns.com

Each player will be able to select one of two challenge races each day and place a mythical $2 win-place-show wager on their selection for that race. Players begin the contest with one free lifeline. Additional lifelines will be available for purchase throughout the course of the contest by anyone whose selection finishes out of the money or who misses a day, for whatever reason.

For a complete set of rules and information, visit https://www.liveitupchallenge.com on the Internet.

Down the stretch. Five-time leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Daniel Centeno rode three winners on today’s card. He won the first race on 4-year-old filly Kittery by a head for breeder-owner Robert C. Roffey, Jr., and trainer Chad Stewart.

In the fourth race, Centeno booted home first-time starter Romantic Henry, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Carolyn Wilson and trained by Larry Rivelli, by a diminishing nose. He added the sixth by a neck on Alfredo Romana, a 5-year-old Florida-bred horse owned by Maria Claire Van Sant, Theresa Salerno and trainer David Nunn.  

Centeno also had three seconds from his eight mounts.

Scott Spieth rode two winners today. Spieth was aboard 4-year-old Florida-bred filly Little Britches in the second race for owner-trainer Wayne Mogge and added the 10th on Celesse, a 3-year-old filly owned by Douglas Terry and trained by Wayne Minnock.

Golfest Presented by Valspar Championship wraps up Sunday. The sixth annual Golfest Presented by Valspar Championship resumes Sunday at 9 a.m. The final of the $1-million Hole-in-One Contest takes place at about noon, with one qualifying golfer taking a shot at sinking a 165-yard shot and collecting the grand prize, which would be paid out over 40 years.

Actor Christopher McDonald – also known as Shooter McGavin from the movie, Happy Gilmore – teamed with PGA Tour standout Chris DiMarco of The Golf Channel to win today’s Celebrity Golf Skills Challenge III. The team of former Tampa Bay Rays pitchers Andy Sonnanstine and Dan Wheeler finished second.

Golfers of all ages and ability levels, as well as anyone eager to be introduced to the sport, will find much to strike their fancy at the Tampa Bay area’s largest golf expo and demo-day event. Admission is $10, with children 14-and-under getting in free. There is no charge for parking.

There is an ongoing silent auction, which features more than 30 donated prizes worth in excess of $6,000. In addition to tickets to golf’s first 2016 major tournament in Georgia, prizes include tickets to the Valspar Championship Presented by BB&T and the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Invitational; tickets to a Tampa Bay Lightning game; a day for four at Tampa Bay Downs, including lunch; rounds of golf for four at various area courses; and numerous other items.

A portion of the proceeds from the silent auction will benefit the North Florida PGA Foundation, Thanks Troops – Tampa and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Main-stage activity is slated to begin at 9:30 a.m. Instruction will be provided by Kelly Murray of the Canadian PGA Tour, PGA instructor Bryan Moran and putting guru Mike Shannon of Sea Island Golf Academy. McDonald will appear at 12:30 p.m. with long-drive champion Mike Zeigler.

Tampa Bay Downs conducts Thoroughbred racing each Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with Thursdays added to the mix on Feb. 18 and Feb. 25. The track 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.