by Mike Henry

The highly acclaimed Tampa Bay Downs turf course will grab the spotlight on Feb. 5 during the track’s inaugural Turf Champions Day, which features a pair of Grade III stakes for older horses.

Part of the track’s Festival Preview Day showcase in recent years, both the $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward and the $175,000 Endeavour Stakes for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward will be run on the grass at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth. Track officials believe allowing both races to stand alone on a high-caliber stakes card will enhance the Oldsmar oval’s burgeoning turf racing program.

Peter Berube, the track’s Vice President & General Manager, said moving both races up a week on the calendar should benefit both the turf and main track stakes programs.

“When you look at some of the recent winners of the Endeavour and the Tampa Bay Stakes – horses such as Tepin, Zagora and World Approval – as well as winning trainers like Claude McGaughey, Todd Pletcher, Mark Casse, Chad Brown and Graham Motion, it becomes obvious that our turf course is considered one of the safest and most consistent in the sport,” Berube said.

“By offering both races on a day when they will be the most lucrative turf stakes anywhere in the nation, we are hopeful of widespread exposure for both the turf and the main track, as well as the facility and our overall quality of racing,” Berube added.

Nominations for both races closed Saturday in the Tampa Bay Downs Racing Office, with the 36th running of the Tampa Bay Stakes attracting 37 horses and the 23rd running of the Endeavour drawing 32 (more below).

Moving the two races ahead on the stakes calendar also allows trainers of the Endeavour starters additional time to prepare for the Grade II, $250,000 Hillsborough Stakes for fillies and mares, part of the track’s March 12 Festival Day card highlighted by the 42nd running of the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.

The Oldsmar oval’s restructured Festival Preview Day card on Feb. 12, meanwhile, now consists of the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds, which awards qualifying points to the first four finishers on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby;” the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, a “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points race; the $100,000 Pelican Stakes for horses 4-and-upward sprinting 6 furlongs; and the $50,000 Minaret Stakes for fillies and mares 4-and-upward at 6 furlongs.

The list of Tampa Bay Stakes nominees is headed by Lawana L. and Robert E. Low’s 5-year-old horse Colonel Liam, who won a pair of Grade I turf stakes last year. The lightly raced (6-for-9) career millionaire is trained by Todd Pletcher.

Get Smokin, who won last year’s Tampa Bay Stakes out of the barn of trainer Thomas Bush and is now trained by Mark Casse, is also nominated, along with a number of accomplished campaigners.

That group includes millionaire and multiple-Grade II winner Cross Border, an 8-year-old trained by Mike Maker; Devamani, an 8-year-old multiple graded-stakes winning gelding trained by Chad Brown who was second in the Tampa Bay Stakes two years ago; Maker’s multiple graded-stakes winner Field Pass, an earner of more than $900,000; Pletcher’s 6-year-old gelding Largent, who may be rounding into form after spending most of 2021 on the sidelines; and Sole Volante, trainer Patrick Biancone’s 5-year-old gelding who won the 2020 Sam F. Davis Stakes and was runner-up in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.

Here is a link to the entire list of Tampa Bay Stakes nominees, followed by a link to their past performances:



Owners Lawana and Robert Low and trainer Pletcher also have one of the top Endeavour Stakes nominees in the popular 5-year-old mare Sweet Melania, a multiple graded-stakes winner who captured the Grade III Suwanee River Stakes at Gulfstream in her most recent start and finished third in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.

One of the more intriguing Endeavour nominees is 4-year-old filly Lady Speightspeare, who won the Grade I Natalma Stakes as a 2-year-old and the Grade II Bessarabian at 3, both at Woodbine. She is trained by Roger Attfield.

Other leading nominees include Pletcher’s consistent multiple graded-stakes winner, Always Shopping; Brown’s unbeaten (3-for-3) 4-year-old filly, Bleecker Street; Gift List, 4-year-old Grade II winner who has never been out of the money in eight starts, trained by Brian Lynch; and Wakanaka, a 4-year-old Irish-bred who was 6-for-8 in Italy, trained by Bill Mott.

Here is a link to the entire list of Endeavour Stakes nominees, followed by a link to their past performances:



Around the oval. Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr., rode two winners today. He captured the fourth race on Baby Gundin, a 4-year-old filly owned by Bra-Gar Stables and trained by Antonio Machado. Diaz added the sixth race with Captain, a 4-year-old colt owned by Brent Fernung and trained by Kathleen O’Connell.

Thoroughbred racing continues Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:15 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 17, when the track is closed.

Otherwise, the Oldsmar oval 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.