by Mike Henry

The rock stars are coming to Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday.

With three graded stakes races on the Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card, and $650,000 in stakes purse money on the line, some of the world’s top trainers and greatest jockeys will be on the scene.

Hall of Fame trainer Claude “Shug” McGaughey has entered his 4-year-old graded stakes-winning colt Inspector Lynley in the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf, a race the conditioner won last year. McGaughey also runs 4-year-old filly Azaelia in the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes on the turf.

Fellow Hall of Famer conditioner William Mott will be represented in the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes on the main track by promising 3-year-old filly Elate, who achieved a superior Beyer Speed Figure of 88 in her career debut in November at Aqueduct while winning by 12 ½ lengths.

Seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher has two horses in the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on the main track, unbeaten Fact Finding and Tapwrit, and starts multiple graded-stakes winning mare Isabella Sings in the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes. Pletcher is gunning for his seventh Sam F. Davis victory since 2006.

The 2016 Eclipse Award-winning trainer, Chad Brown, has entered 4-year-old colt Catapult in the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes and both Light In Paris and Elysea’s World in the Lambholm South Endeavour. Other top out-of-town trainers looking to dip their hands into the vault include Mark Casse, H. Graham Motion and George “Rusty” Arnold II.

Familiar faces will also inhabit the Oldsmar jockeys room, headed by Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez, who seeks his fifth Sam F. Davis triumph with Fact Finding. Each of Velazquez’s Sam F. Davis victories, including last year on Destin, came for Pletcher. Velazquez will also ride Isabella Sings, Inspector Lynley and the Motion-trained Party Boat in the Suncoast.

Robby Albarado, who recently notched career victory No. 5,000, has a mount in each stakes, including Arnold’s Wild Shot in the Sam F. Davis. Brian Hernandez, Jr., will be here, primarily to ride Sam F. Davis favorite McCraken for trainer Ian Wilkes; they teamed to win the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic with Fort Larned. And Julien Leparoux and Jose Ortiz will make the trip from south Florida, with Leparoux riding State of Honor in the Sam F. Davis for Casse and Ortiz on Tapwrit for Pletcher.

Given the influx of the “heavy heads,” it might come as a surprise that hometown trainers may have two betting favorites for the stakes races: Gerald Bennett’s 3-year-old Florida-bred filly R Angel Katelyn in the mile-and-40-yard Suncoast and Ignacio Correas IV's 7-year-old horse Kasaqui in the mile-and-a-sixteenth Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf.

R Angel Katelyn, who is owned by a partnership headed by Bradenton, Fla., construction executive Rich Averill, has won three consecutive stakes, including the Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and last month’s Gasparilla Stakes, both at Tampa Bay Downs. Edwin Gonzalez is her jockey.

She is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line to Elate in the nine-horse field, but that could change by post time Saturday.

Bennett drew on history when discussing R Angel Katelyn’s chances to win her first two-turn event. “I had Valueable Charmer (in the Suncoast) last year, and she finished second to a filly (the Arnold-trained Weep No More) who won a $500,000 stakes at Keeneland in her next start (the Grade I Central Bank Ashland). And at this point, R Angel Katelyn is much further along than Valueable Charmer was.

“I’m looking for her to win four stakes in a row,” Bennett said. “She’s been training well on the track, changing her leads well, eating her grain and acting very sharp. She has a lot of talent and unless something unforeseen happens, someone will have to run well to beat her.”

Bennett also trains Sam F. Davis entrant Chance of Luck, who won the Inaugural Stakes here as a 2-year-old and finished second last month in the Pasco Stakes. Ronnie Allen, Jr., will ride for owner J J Brevan Stable in the mile-and-a-sixteenth “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race.

Chance of Luck is 15-1 on the morning line in the nine-horse field, and Bennett appreciates the enormity of the task racing against Grade II winner McCraken, graded stakes-placed colts No Dozing and Wild Shot, Woodbine stakes winner King and His Court and the Pletcher-trained pair. Bennett has chosen to add blinkers in an effort to improve Chance of Luck’s focus.

“I believe he’s going to run well if he gets a good trip,” Bennett said. “But they say the race is full of monsters, so we’ll have to wait and see.”

Correas, who trains the Argentine-bred Kasaqui for the Wimborne Farm of Diane Perkins, enjoyed a memorable 2016 campaign with the 3-1 morning-line Tampa Bay Stakes favorite after his importation from South America.

Kasaqui won a conditional turf allowance at Keeneland last April at odds of 30-1 in his second start stateside. Correas moved him to Grade I company in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, but Kasaqui clipped heels and fell while in striking position.

Fortunately, Kasaqui returned to his stall no worse for wear, and after a narrow miss in the Grade II Wise Dan at Churchill in his first race with Albarado aboard, he won the Grade III Arlington Handicap in July. Kasaqui and Albarado missed by a neck against Mondialiste five weeks later in the Grade I Arlington Million.

“He has the right mind. He is a competitive soul who wants to win and will always try hard for you,” Correas said. “He has been training lights-out and doing everything right. I think this is a great spot for him to start the year, and I’m very comfortable with how he’s doing going into the race.”

Correas also has high hopes for his filly Belted in the Suncoast. Owned by Template Farm, she will be ridden by Albarado. “She is facing a couple of tough horses, but I think she’ll do well,” Correas said.

Around the oval. Today’s Pick-5 returned a track-record $93,159.30 on a $1 wager, topping the record set in 2012. One unidentified bettor correctly selected the 1/1/2/9/8 combination for 50 cents.

Jockey Orlando Bocachica rode two winners today. He was aboard 5-year-old gelding Doodle Hopper in the second race for trainer John Rigattieri, who owns the horse in partnership with Manfred Roos. Bocachica also won the seventh on 4-year-old filly Smokin Red Hot for owner John Grossi’s Racing Corp. and trainer William Downing.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:44 p.m. The program includes three turf races. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play at The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

“Live It Up Challenge” set to begin. Handicappers looking to travel to Las Vegas next winter and chase a jackpot of about $800,000 will get that opportunity through the fourth annual “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest sponsored by Tampa Bay Downs beginning Saturday.

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 Saturday at www.liveitupchallenge.com to participate.

The Grand Prize for the “Live It Up Challenge” is a seat in 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.

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 contest 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). Lifelines can be purchased upon sign-up and on Feb. 17 and March 10.

Full rules are available on the contest website. The Grand Prize is a seat in 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.

There is also a $500 prize for the individual selecting the most winners over the duration of the contest.