by Mike Henry

Horse players wishing to travel to Las Vegas next winter and chase a jackpot of about $800,000 can take the first step through the fourth annual “Live It Up Challenge” online handicapping contest sponsored by Tampa Bay Downs.

The contest begins Saturday, Feb. 11, on the Oldsmar oval’s annual Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card, which features four stakes races worth a combined $650,000 in purse money.

Tampa Bay Downs is expected to welcome 6-year-old mare Tepin, the two-time Eclipse Award Champion Turf Female, for a defense of her 2016 victory in the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes on the turf, while highly ranked Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands hopeful McCraken, 3-for-3 in his brief career, will make his 3-year-old debut in the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race.

The lucrative card also includes the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes.

Adding to the festive vibe, next week marks the return of Thursday racing to the schedule, as Tampa Bay Downs conducts five cards a week throughout the remainder of February.

Before getting too far ahead of the story, please note Tampa Bay Downs’ “Super Sunday” card features a Pick-5 carryover of $26,280.43. The Pick-5 wager, which features a 50-cent minimum, will begin with the fifth race and requires bettors to correctly select the winners of races five-through-nine to score.

While money-making opportunities abound for horsemen and bettors, serious handicappers and casual fans alike can take their best shot at grabbing the brass (or silver, or gold) ring in the “Live It Up Challenge.”

There is no cost to register for the online competition, which runs through April 2. Players must register by 10:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Feb. 11 at to participate.

The Grand Prize for the “Live It Up Challenge” is a seat at the 2018 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship and $1,000. Second prize is $1,000 and third prize is $500.

Also, a $500 prize will be awarded to the entrant selecting the most winners over the duration of the contest.

Ray Arsenault of Thornhill, Ontario, Canada won the recently concluded DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship from 65 other qualifiers at Treasure Island Las Vegas, collecting $800,000. The second, third and fourth-place finishers collected $250,000, $125,000 and $100,000, respectively.

The DRF/NTRA finals offered prize money totaling $2,900,600.

All wagers in the Tampa Bay Downs “Live It Up Challenge” contest are mythical. Once registered, players log on each racing day and select one horse from either of that day’s randomly selected “Challenge Races.” Each day’s winnings are based on the win, place and show pari-mutuel payouts on a player’s selection.

Each player begins the contest with a lifeline, to be used if their choice finishes out of the money. A player is eliminated from the contest when they lose all their lifelines (said player remains eligible for the “Most Winners” prize, however). Additional lifelines can be purchased upon sign-up and on Feb. 17 and March 10.

Full rules are available on the contest website.

Around the oval. Sunday’s Pick-5 wager features a carryover pool of $26,280.43, since nobody correctly selected the winners of the last five races on today’s card. That was due in large part to a victory in the seventh race by 28-1 shot Mach Trial, followed by a victory in the eighth race, the Lambholm South Race of the Week on the turf, by 40-1 shot D’craziness. The other winners in the Pick-5 paid $19.20, $17.80 and $29.60, so “D’craziness” summed things up nicely.

Ademar Santos and Dean Butler rode two winners apiece today. Santos captured the fourth race on 4-year-old Florida-bred filly Get a Room, a homebred racing for Ups and Downs Racing and trained by Ups and Downs owner Monte R. Thomas. Santos added the sixth race on the turf aboard Chique to Chique, a 6-year-old mare owned by Josie Gump and trained by Bill Sienkewicz.

Butler entered the winner’s circle after the fifth race on Casitas, a 3-year-old filly owned and trained by Eoin Harty. Butler added the ninth race on first-time starter Woolley Allen, a 3-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned and trained by Bernell Rhone.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes on “Super Sunday” with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m., allowing Patriots and Falcons fans to enjoy a full afternoon of racing excitement before heading to their Super Bowl LI viewing spot (we meant to say Falcons and Patriots fans, I think).

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.

“Hearts Reaching Out.” Preparations are underway for the 25th annual “Hearts Reaching Out” Golf Tournament, Dinner and Charity Auction, to be held Monday, March 6. The event benefits the Race Track Chaplaincy of America—Tampa Bay Downs Division and those individuals at the track served by the RTCA.

The RTCA—TBD Division golf tournament, which is a four-person scramble, will be played at Cheval Golf and Athletic Club in nearby Lutz, with an 11 a.m. shotgun start. Dinner is at 5:30 p.m. on the first floor of the Tampa Bay Downs Grandstand, followed by the live and silent auctions.

Items to be bid on during the auctions include horse racing and sports memorabilia, signed photographs and paintings, tickets to sporting events and gift baskets. There will also be a raffle for a Corriente saddle donated by Wayne Baize, a popular Cowboy Artist. Raffle tickets are $10 and will be available at the Chaplain’s office on the Tampa Bay Downs backside in the days leading to the event.

Cost for the tournament, dinner and auction is $100, with a $20 cost for those attending only the dinner and auction. Groups or individuals can sponsor a hole with signage at the tournament for $125. Table sponsorships for the dinner and auctions are also available, and the chaplaincy is accepting donations.

For details, call the Chaplain’s office at (813) 854-1313 or RTCA—TBD President Sharyn Wasiluk at (813) 494-1870.