by Mike Henry

Dorth Vader, who set a stakes record of 1:09.35 for 6 furlongs in winning the Sandpiper Stakes on Dec. 3, is expected to try to stretch her speed another furlong Saturday in the 39th running of the $125,000 Gasparilla Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

The Gasparilla is one of three stakes on the Skyway Festival Day card. The others are the 25th edition of the $125,000, 7-furlong Pasco Stakes for 3-year-old males going 7 furlongs and the 39th running of the $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth.

Florida-bred Dorth Vader, who is 3-for-5 in her career, had previously won the 7-furlong Juvenile Fillies Sprint Stakes on Oct. 29 at Gulfstream Park. She races for her breeder and owner, John Ropes, and is trained by Michael Yates. Marcos Meneses has ridden her in her last four starts.

Among those expected to challenge Dorth Vader, according to Tampa Bay Downs Stakes Coordinator Autumn Charley, are the second-place Sandpiper finisher, Awesome Pic, from the barn of co-owner and trainer Robert G. Smith; Dreaming of Snow, trained by Gerald Bennett; and Opus Forty Two, trained by Arnaud Delacour.

Meanwhile, Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse is expected to send both Champions Dream and Armstrong from his Casse Training Center in Ocala for the Pasco Stakes. Champions Dream – a son of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify – is already a graded-stakes winner, having taken the Grade III Nashua Stakes on Nov. 6 at Aqueduct. The Ontario-bred Armstrong is 2-for-3, including a victory on Dec. 9 at Woodbine in the Clarendon Stakes.

Among those they are expected to face is Handsome Playboy, who followed a second-place finish on Dec. 3 in the Inaugural Stakes with an impressive allowance/optional claiming victory on Dec. 21. Handsome Playboy is trained by Bennett, who bred Handsome Playboy with his wife Mary and owns the gelding under his Winning Stables banner.

Other probable Pssco starters include trainer Greg Sacco’s colt Freedom Road and gelding Zydeceaux, trained by Ramon Minguet.

Bennett also is expected to try the Wayward Lass with 5-year-old mare Tap Dance Fever, who won here on Dec. 17 in a two-turn, conditional allowance/optional claiming race that was taken off the turf. Her rivals could include the hard-knocking 5-year-old stakes-winning mare Molly’s Angel, bred and owned by Peter Mattson and trained by Tim Padilla.

Around the oval. Mattson and Padilla teamed to win today’s featured fifth race, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week at a mile on the turf, with their classy 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding Drama Chorus. The son of Big Drama took over from pace-setter Chess Master on the turn for home and staved off a late rally from Cannon’s Roar to win by a half-length from that foe.

Regular rider Alonso Quinonez rode Drama Chorus, who improved to 7-for-26. Drama Chorus won the Grey Goose Turf Classic Stakes here last March on Florida Cup Day, and although it is more than two months away, it would be no surprise to see Mattson, Padilla and Quinonez strive toward a repeat.

Antonio Machado sent out two winners today. The trainer won the third race with Moniques Daredevil, a 6-year-old mare owned by Me-My Trainerservices Corp., and ridden by Pablo Morales. Machado added the eighth race with Thunder Buggy, a 5-year-old mare owned by Benjamin Sanchez and ridden by Samy Camacho.

The Oldsmar oval’s leading jockey also won the fourth race with Aidingandabetting, a 4-year-old gelding owned in partnership by Barbara Anderson and his trainer, Juan Arriagada.

Thoroughbred racing continues Wednesday at Tampa Bay Downs with a nine-race card beginning at 12:31 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.