By Mike Henry —-
OLDSMAR, FL. – Tampa Bay Downs will conduct the most lucrative stakes program in its 92-year history during the 2017-2018 Thoroughbred racing season, offering a record 28 stakes races worth a combined $3.65-million.
Additional purse and bonus monies for seven stakes – including the Grade II, (now)-$400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-olds on March 10 – are being made available through Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association’s (FTBOA) stakes funding and sponsorships by the FTBOA’s Florida Sire Stakes program.
The lineup features a $50,000 increase in the total purse for the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, won last season by subsequent Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRABets winner Tapwrit. The Festival Day card will consist of five stakes races worth a cool aggregate of $1-million, a Tampa Bay Downs single-day first.
The stakes schedule, announced today by Tampa Bay Downs Vice President-General Manager Peter Berube, includes three graded stakes apiece on both the March 10 Festival Day program and the Feb. 10 Festival Preview Day presented by Lambholm South card, which is highlighted by the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes.
The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and the Sam F. Davis Stakes, both contested at a distance of a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track, are part of the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series, which awards points to the top four finishers in major races to help determine eligibility for the Run for the Roses on May 5 at Churchill Downs.
The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby has produced the winners of three Triple Crown races. In addition to Tapwrit, Street Sense won both the Tampa Bay Derby and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands in 2007, while Super Saver won the 2010 Kentucky Derby after finishing third in the Tampa Bay Derby.
“Not only are we offering more stakes than ever, with more available purse money, our schedule include races for all ages and types of horses on both dirt and turf,” Berube said. “We are proud of our record of attracting horses capable of winning at the highest level of the sport and pleased to offer our fans such a high quality of racing.
“A lot of credit goes to our track maintenance staff, headed by (Vice President of Facilities and Track Surfaces) Tom McLaughlin,” Berube said. “Year after year, many of the top trainers who send horses here, as well as our locally-based trainers, have expressed their satisfaction at the consistency of our deep, sand-based main surface and the immaculate condition of the turf course and their desire to compete at Tampa Bay Downs.
“We also strive to position our stakes races on the calendar to give horsemen the best opportunity to prepare for other major races across the country, which creates a ‘win-win’ scenario for them and for our fans who love seeing the big horses in their backyard,” Berube added.
Joining the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on the March 10 Festival Day card are the Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-an-eighth on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course and the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth, also on the turf.
The purse for the Hillsborough, won in 2016 by the subsequent Eclipse Award Champion Grass Mare, Tepin, has been increased from $200,000.
The track’s Festival Day program also includes the $100,000 Challenger Stakes and the $75,000 Columbia Stakes, the latter on the turf, rounding out the million-dollar stakes cornucopia.
As mentioned, the Feb. 10 Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card is led by the Sam F. Davis Stakes, which serves as the traditional prep race for the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and has produced numerous Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands starters.
Also part of Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South are the Grade III, $175,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-years-old-and-upward and the Grade III, $175,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes for fillies and mares 4-years-old-and-upward. Both races feature purse increases of $25,000 and will be contested at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf.
The lone non-graded stakes on the Feb. 10 card is the $150,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, which features a $50,000 purse boost and has been added to the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points series.
Churchill Downs added the Suncoast to the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” roster soon after Elate (the runner-up to Tapa Tapa Tapa in last season’s Suncoast) won the Grade I Alabama Stakes at Saratoga in August. Elate’s Alabama triumph marked the third consecutive year a Suncoast participant went on to win a Grade I event, joining 2015 Suncoast winner Include Betty and 2016 winner Weep No More.
A quartet of first-year stakes funded by the FTBOA will provide an additional $450,000 in purses for eligible Florida-bred horses. On Dec. 16, Tampa Bay Downs will play host to the $125,000 FTBOA Marion County Florida Sire Stakes for 3-year-old colts and geldings and the $125,000 FTBOA City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, both at a distance of seven furlongs on the main track.
Then, on May 5, as part of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands festivities at Tampa Bay Downs, two stakes will be contested: the $100,000 FTBOA Silver Charm Florida Sire Stakes for 3-year-old colts and geldings and the $100,000 FTBOA Ivanavinalot Florida Sire Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Both races will be contested at a mile-and-40-yards on the main track.
The Dec. 16 program is the track’s annual Cotillion Festival Day, which includes the $100,000 Inaugural Stakes for 2-year-olds and the $100,000 Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, both at a distance of six furlongs.
Cotillion Festival Day is a natural lead-in to the track’s Skyway Festival Day program on Jan. 20, featuring the $125,000 Pasco Stakes for 3-year-olds and the $125,000 Gasparilla Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, both at a distance of seven furlongs on the main track. Both the Pasco and the Gasparilla enjoy $25,000 purse increases.
The 16th edition of the track’s Florida Cup, featuring six races worth $100,000 apiece for Florida-bred horses, will be contested Sunday, March 25. The Florida Cup, which has seen such recent winners as multiple Grade I-winning star World Approval, offers three main track races and three turf races for males and females.
All told, the 2017-2018 stakes schedule features eight multi-stakes programs (see attached schedule).
Tampa Bay Downs will open its barn area on Monday, Oct. 30, with training to commence on Nov. 6. The 2017-2018 season, which officially began July 1, is set to resume on Saturday, Nov. 25.
Tampa Bay Downs 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.