Thoroughbred Racing Returns To Tampa Bay Downs On Wednesday - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Thoroughbred Racing Returns To Tampa Bay Downs On Wednesday

Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Fla.

Tampa Bay Downs launches its 97th anniversary season of Thoroughbred racing on Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:38 p.m.

The 92-day meet runs through May 6, plus the season-ending card that kicks off next year's Summer Festival of Racing on June 30. Racing will be held each Wednesday, Friday and Saturday through Dec. 31, with Sundays added to the mix on Jan. 1. There will also be a Thursday card on Dec. 22.

Opening Day admission is free, as it is all Wednesdays during the meet. General admission is $3 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with children 12-and-under free when accompanied by an adult. Reserved seating and box seats, which are available from ushers on race days, are $5.

Tampa Bay Downs will be closed Thursday for Thanksgiving, as well as Dec. 25 for Christmas and April 9 for Easter.

In addition to its racing schedule, Tampa Bay Downs will present a full slate of fun events for fans of all ages throughout the meet. The promotional calendar kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 3 with the free-to-enter “10 Days of Festivus” Online Handicapping Contest, which runs through Dec. 23 and awards a first-place prize of $1,000.

The following Saturday, Dec. 10, Tampa Bay Downs will play host to the “Corgi Races After the Races,” non-wagering canine affairs that delight even the most grizzled of $2 bettors.

The competition on the racetrack promises to be fast and intense. Last season's leading trainer, Gerald Bennett, and the top jockey, Samy Camacho, have returned to defend their titles. Bennett, who won 36 races last season, is seeking an unprecedented eighth consecutive uncontested title and ninth overall (Jamie Ness won nine in a row, but shared the title in 2009-2010 with Kathleen O'Connell and in 2010-2011 with Bennett).

Most of Bennett's top challengers are back and eager to knock him from his perch, including two-time champion O'Connell, last season's runner-up with 30 victories; Juan Arriagada, fourth with 23; Anthony Granitz, fifth with 21; Jon Arnett, sixth with 19; and Arnaud Delacour, who tied for seventh with 17.

Camacho, who rode 85 winners for his third crown in the last four seasons, will also be hard-pressed to stay on top. His main rivals should include 2022-2023 runner-up Pablo Morales, who won his eighth title at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., this year; six-time Oldsmar riding champion Daniel Centeno, who tied for fourth with 42; Hector Rafael Diaz, Jr., who also won 42; and five-time champion Antonio Gallardo.

Another jockey who could share the spotlight is 19-year-old apprentice Madeline “Maddie” Rowland, ninth last season with 34 winners. Newcomers who could make an impact include Angel Arroyo, who has almost 1,300 career victories, and Marcos Meneses.

Fans will be greeted by a revamped tote board displaying the “Live it up at the Downs!” logo and new seating throughout the Grandstand. The track maintenance department has installed new breakaway PVC rails around the main dirt track and the inside of the turf course, designed to give way in case of a collision with a horse and/or rider and prevent serious injury.

The track's stakes schedule (see attached), which consists of 26 races worth $3.46-million in total purse money, gets underway on Saturday, Dec. 3 with a pair of $100,000, 6-furlong sprints: the 37th edition of the Inaugural Stakes for 2-year-olds and the 45th Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Both races have drawn 21 nominations.

The biggest race of the season is the 43rd edition of the Grade 2, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-olds on Saturday, March 11. The race is part of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” qualifying series, awarding points to the first four finishers toward qualifying for the Run for the Roses on May 6 at Churchill Downs.

The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, which is run on the main track at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth, is one of five stakes – four graded – worth a combined $1-million on the Festival Day 43 card, including the Grade 2, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the turf, for older fillies and mares; the Grade 3, $200,000 Florida Oaks on the turf, for 3-year-old fillies; the Grade 3, $100,000 Michelob Ultra Challenger Stakes on the main, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward; and the $75,000 Columbia Stakes on the turf, for 3-year-olds.

The next biggest day of the season is Feb. 11, with four stakes headed by the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds. The Sam F. Davis is the main prep race for the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and is also a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race.

The remaining two Tampa Bay Downs graded stakes will be contested Feb. 4, both on the turf: the Grade 3, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-and-upward and the Grade 3, $175,000 Endeavour Stakes for fillies and mares 4-and-upward.

Wednesday's card includes a pair of feature races worth $27,000 apiece. The second race, a 7-furlong maiden special weight contest for fillies and mares 3-and-upward, has attracted six 3-year-olds, with Glen Hill Farm's Kentucky-bred Wandering accorded 9-5 morning-line favorite status.

Wandering is trained by Tom Proctor and will be ridden by Jesus Castanon.

The other co-feature is the eighth race, a 6-furlong allowance/optional claiming race for horses 3-and-upward. Ten are entered, with 5-year-old gelding Expensive Style the 5-2 morning line favorite. He is owned and trained by Arriagada and will be ridden by Jose Batista.

Wednesday's nine races drew 88 entries.

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