by Mike Henry

Area racing fans experiencing their annual case of “Derby Fever” can be treated all weekend at Tampa Bay Downs, which has scheduled three full cards of Thoroughbred action in addition to the simulcasts of the Longines Kentucky Oaks on Friday and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on Saturday.

Post time for the first race at Churchill Friday and Saturday is 10:30 a.m. Tampa Bay Downs will open its gates at 10 a.m. to accommodate simulcast bettors.

Friday’s nine-race card at Tampa Bay Downs begins at 12:33, with the simulcast of the 143rd Longines Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies from Churchill Downs scheduled for 6:12 p.m. A 10-race card Saturday at the Oldsmar oval, with post time for the first race at 12:25 p.m., precedes the 143rd edition of the world’s most famous race, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, at 6:46 p.m.

Visitors to Tampa Bay Downs are encouraged to participate in all of the traditions surrounding the Derby, including sipping a mint julep from a souvenir Kentucky Derby glass, wearing a colorful Derby hat and singing along to “My Old Kentucky Home” during the post parade.

Souvenir glasses (minus libation) and other Kentucky Derby items are on sale in the Tampa Bay Downs Gift Shop throughout the week.

Sunday is “Fan Appreciation Day” at Tampa Bay Downs, with 10 races starting at 12:35 p.m., free grandstand admission and discounts on hot dogs, soft drinks and draft beers from noon-3 p.m. Sunday’s action concludes the main portion of the track’s 2016-2017 meeting, which officially wraps up on June 30, the first day of the track’s two-day Summer Festival of Racing and Music.

Also on Sunday, Tampa Bay Downs officials will recognize the 2016-2017 season’s leading owner, trainer and jockey with trophy presentations between races.

Before that, however, Saturday’s excitement is expected to build to a nearly unsustainable level before 20 3-year-olds – including four that competed at Tampa Bay Downs this year – enter the starting gate to chase racing immortality in the mile-and-a-quarter Kentucky Derby.

“While it’s hard to believe another season is almost over, it seems as if everyone has had the Derby on their minds for the past few weeks,” said Tampa Bay Downs Vice President-General Manager Peter Berube. “Our biggest wish is for a safe and fairly run race, but I think most of our fans are hoping one of the horses they got to see in person this season can join Street Sense (2007) and Super Saver (2010) as Derby winners who competed at Tampa Bay Downs.”

Street Sense won the (then)-Grade III Tampa Bay Derby before his victory in the Run for the Roses, while Super Saver finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby before his memorable triumph in Louisville.

Four horses to race at Tampa Bay Downs this season are entered in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands: McCraken, who won the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 11; Tapwrit, winner of the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 11; State of Honor, who finished third in the Sam F. Davis and second in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby; and Always Dreaming, who broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 25.

The only year in which more Tampa Bay Downs alumni competed in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands was 2009, when five Oldsmar products made it to Louisville (Musket Man, the winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, finished third to lead the Oldsmar contingent, behind Mine That Bird and Pioneerof the Nile).

Two fillies to see action at Tampa Bay Downs are entered in Friday’s Longines Kentucky Oaks. Daddys Lil Darling finished sixth in the Grade III Florida Oaks on the turf here on March 11, while Sailor’s Valentine finished second in an allowance/optional claiming race the next day.

Two horses to compete at Tampa Bay Downs have won the Kentucky Oaks: Secret Status in 2000 and Luv Me Luv Me Not in 1992. Both had previously won the Florida Oaks, which was moved from the main dirt track to the Oldsmar turf course in 2011.

Adding to the weekend-long festivities, Tampa Bay Downs is also participating in a silent auction throughout Saturday’s card to benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys’ Fund (PDJF).

The Oldsmar oval will be among 24 tracks across the country taking part in the fund-raising event. Proceeds from the collaborative effort by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, PDJF, JockeyTalk360 and the Jockeys’ Guild will provide aid for permanently disabled riders’ health care and living expenses.

Among the items of memorabilia expected to be available for bids are three framed and autographed photographs of historic moments in racing: Arrogate winning the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic, autographed by jockey Mike Smith; a “3 for the Ages” compilation of Triple Crown winners Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, autographed by jockeys Ron Turcotte, Jean Cruguet and Steve Cauthen; and Secretariat racing to victory in the 1973 Kentucky Derby, signed by Turcotte.

Fans who contribute to the PDJF during the auction will be offered a racing souvenir. For details, visit on the Internet. The PDJF provides financial assistance to 60 former jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries.