by Mike Henry

Saturday’s $100,000 Inaugural Stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings and the $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies each attracted 10 entrants and are part of a 10-race card that begins at 12:10 p.m.

Heading the field for the Inaugural, which is the ninth race on the card, is the gelding Concrete Glory, a Pennsylvania-bred son of Bodemeister who has won three races in a row by a combined margin of 20 lengths. Owned by Carl L. Hess, Jr., and trained by Gerald Brooks, Concrete Glory will be ridden by Antonio Gallardo while breaking from the outside No. 10 post.

Inaugural bettors will also pay close attention to Optigogo, a colt who finished third in the Display Stakes in his most recent start on Oct. 30 at Woodbine. Rocco Bowen is named to ride for owner Calumet Farm and trainer Eoin Harty.

The Sandpiper is the seventh race on the card. Gallardo appears to have another top contender in Florida-bred Strategic Bird, who broke her maiden by 12 ¾ lengths last month at Gulfstream for owner Gary Barber and Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse. Strategic Bird drew the inside No. 1 post.

Also looking tough is trainer David Fawkes’s Florida-bred filly Chasing Happiness, who will break from the No. 4 post under Pablo Morales.

Saturday also marks the start of the “10 Days of Festivus Challenge,” an online handicapping contest that runs from Saturday through Dec. 24. There is no cost to enter and handicappers of all experience levels get to test their skills against some of the best.

The contest is a lot of fun and offers a first-place prize of $1,000. Each player begins the “10 Days of Festivus Challenge” with a free lifeline, and players who get off to a slow start may purchase additional lifelines as the contest moves forward.

Participants must register by 10:30 a.m. on the first day of the contest. All wagers are mythical, and players select one horse in one of each day’s “Challenge Races,” with results determined from a $2 mythical win-place-show wager on their pick.

A full set of rules is available on the contest website, which can be accessed at (click Festivus Challenge on the home page, then click “Create an account” near the top right of the contest page).

The contest focus is on picking winners, so it is likely to produce several “diamond-in-the-rough” contenders who know how to map out a race and factor in all the variables that make handicapping such a fun and challenging endeavor.

In today’s featured sixth race, a 5-furlong allowance/optional claiming race on the turf, 5-year-old gelding Chess Master turned back a late bid by Jazzy Times to prevail by a neck. The victory was the third in a row for Chess Master, who improved to 10-for-25 in his career.

Owned and trained by Kerri Raven, Chess Master was ridden by Jesus Castanon. The Florida-bred son of Overdriven sped the distance in 55.14 seconds on a firm turf course. About Today finished third, three-quarters of a length behind Jazzy Times.


Jesus Castanon

The Critical Way, the 1-2 favorite who won last season’s Turf Dash Stakes here in February, was pulled up soon after the start by jockey Samy Camacho. The 7-year-old gelding left the course under his own power, returning to trainer Jose H. Delgado’s barn for observation.

Chess Master, who raced during the summer at Canterbury Park in Minnesota, improved to 4-for-7 on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course.

Chess Master’s victory was one of three on the card for Castanon, who won the second race aboard 3-year-old filly La Castiglione for owner Jeff Jacobs and trainer Cody Axmaker and the eighth on the turf on 3-year-old gelding Styner for owner-trainer Juan Arriagada.

Styner was claimed from the race for $16,000 by trainer Jesus Cruz for new owner Wasabi Ventures Stables.

Around the oval. Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs continues Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:40 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs currently races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday schedule, with a special Thursday, Dec. 23 card and Sundays added to the mix on Dec. 26.

Tampa Bay Downs is closed on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and Easter Sunday, April 17. Otherwise, the track 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.