by Mike Henry

Like all Thoroughbreds, Cotillion Festival Day stakes winners Chance of Luck and R Angel Katelyn celebrated birthdays on Jan. 1. On Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, the newly turned 3-year-olds from the barn of leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Gerald Bennett get the opportunity to prove they have gotten better, as well as older.

The long-striding gray colt Chance of Luck, 2-for-2 after his Inaugural Stakes tally on Dec. 3, heads a talent-laden field of seven colts entered in the $100,000, seven-furlong Pasco Stakes, the first of three stakes on an 11-race Skyway Festival Day card beginning at 12:12 p.m.

Erick Rodriguez returns to ride Chance of Luck, who is owned by J J Brevan Stable.

R Angel Katelyn, a dark bay Florida-bred filly who is 3-for-4 with two stakes victories after winning the Sandpiper, is the likely favorite for the $100,000, seven-furlong Gasparilla Stakes, in which she is set to face eight rivals. Edwin Gonzalez will again be aboard.

The third stakes on the program is the $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes, a mile-and-a-sixteenth event for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward. Bennett is represented in that race by his 5-year-old stakes-winning mare Royal Jewely, who is scheduled to face seven rivals. Gonzalez has the riding assignment.

Meanwhile, on today’s card, two-time leading Oldsmar trainer Kathleen O’Connell sent out three winners, one shy of the track record she set in 2003. More on O’Connell’s big day below.

While lucrative in their own right, the Pasco and the Gasparilla cam be stepping stones for horses with the ability to stretch out to longer distances. The Pasco is often used as a springboard to the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth, while a strong Gasparilla effort can lead to a return in the $100,000, mile-and-40-yards Suncoast Stakes for sophomore fillies.

Both the Sam F. Davis and the Suncoast will be contested on Feb. 11, which is the track’s annual Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South.

The Pasco Stakes will be the third race Saturday. The Wayward Lass is the seventh and the Gasparilla is the ninth.

Around the oval. O’Connell teamed with four-time leading Tampa Bay Downs jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., for her first two winners today. They teamed to win the fourth race with 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Honest Fight, owned by Luis De Hechavarria. The duo returned to the winner’s circle after the fifth with 5-year-old gelding Whole, a first-time starter bred and owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider.

O’Connell then won the ninth race on the turf with O K by Me, a 5-year-old mare owned by Castle Village Farm. Wilmer Garcia was the jockey.

Pablo Morales rode two winners. He won the third race on Venus Serena, a 3-year-old filly owned by Casner Racing and trained by Eoin Harty. Morales added the eighth race aboard Two to One, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Tropic Lightning Racing and Endeavor Bloodstock and trained by Teresa Connelly.

Friday’s 10-race card begins at 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.