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On Kentucky Derby Day, Tampa Bay Downs race honors late sports TV and radio personality Chris Thomas

Kathryn Bonfield and daughter Kaitlyn will be at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar today because Chris Thomas always had the date circled. The first Saturday in May, Kentucky Derby day.

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"It was just a special day, because ever since we were together, Derby Day was family day," Bonfield said. "He loved everything about horse racing. He loved to go to the track. He wanted Kaitlyn to grow up with the horses, too."

Thomas, a vivacious sports TV and radio personality in the area, died of cancer five years ago at 55. His spirit will be alive this afternoon in the $75,000 Chris Thomas Turf Classic, the final stakes race of the track's 94-day meet.

Sporting Art, trained by Christophe Clement, heads a field of nine 3-year-olds and upward for the featured event, a 11/8-mile test in Race 7. Bonfield and Kaitlyn, 12, will be in the winner's circle for the trophy presentation.

TBD is expected to have its largest crowd of the season with a live 12-race card, featuring the Derby simulcast. A record five Oldsmar graduates will start in the Run for the Roses. On Sunday, Fan Appreciation Day wraps up the track's 83rd season.

The Columbia Stakes was renamed the Chris Thomas Turf Classic in 2005. "Just the fact that they honor Chris with that race is awesome," said Bonfield, an assistant news director at WFLA-Ch. 8 in Tampa. "Not one day goes by when we don't think of Chris and when he was with us."

Thomas, whose given name was Christian Thomas Olrick, covered the Derby, initiated a thoroughbred-ownership group and gave racing seminars at the Downs. The pinnacle of his broadcasting career came in 1989, earning an Eclipse Award for local TV achievement for his story on 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat.

Oldsmar titles: Jockey Daniel Centeno and trainer Jamie Ness have locked up their third consecutive crowns. Centeno has 135 victories and is one shy of 1,000 for his career. Ness has 61 wins. Richard Averill has 23 wins and is the top owner. Michael Straight, who has 16 victories, is the leading apprentice rider.

Greyhounds: Derby Lane dogs Tmc's Remedy, Its Quillan, Kiowa Knockout and Ww's Deathvalley run in tonight's semifinals of the $30,000 Hollywoodian Stakes at Mardi Gras in Hallandale Beach. The final is May 9.

On Kentucky Derby Day, Tampa Bay Downs race honors late sports TV and radio personality Chris Thomas 05/01/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 1, 2009 9:46pm]
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