A year after two Oldsmar graduates won the signature races at the Breeders' Cup World Championships, Tampa Bay Downs is in position to duplicate that feat today and Saturday at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.
TBD has two starters — Fort Larned and Brilliant Speed — in the $5 million Classic, the richest and final race on Saturday's Breeders program. And Downs graduate Royal Delta goes for her second consecutive victory in the $2 million Ladies' Classic, the final Breeders event today.
Many of the top American and international horses have been entered in the event, which features 13 Grade I races. And the Downs has possibly its largest aggregation ever with nine graduates, two winter-based trainers and a pair of former riding champions.
"We just love it," Downs racing secretary Allison De Luca said. "We're a small track, and it's very exciting to have that many horses in the Breeders' Cup. We really appreciate our trainers that do come and run these horses at Tampa."
Fort Larned and Brilliant Speed will be on each side of favorite Game On Dude in the Classic starting gate. Fort Larned won the $60,000 Challenger Stakes in March at the Downs, his first of four stakes victories for trainer Ian Wilkes. The colt's signature win came in the Grade I Whitney Invitational. Fort Larned will be ridden by Brian Hernandez.
"Ian develops horses and always has a long view about them," De Luca said.
Brilliant Speed broke his maiden at TBD in 2010 for conditioner Tom Albertrani and notched a Grade I win the following year in the Blue Grass Stakes. Junior Alvarado has the riding assignment.
Game On Dude, the 9-5 morning-line choice under trainer Bob Baffert, is expected to be the leading contender for horse of the year with a win. He has never lost in five starts at Santa Anita Park. In last year's Classic, Game On Dude finished second to Drosselmeyer, who also raced in the Challenger Stakes that season.
Royal Delta has blossomed since losing her first career stakes, ninth in the $75,000 Suncoast Stakes in 2011 at the Downs. The William Mott trainee has six graded stakes wins (three Grade I's), including a 2½-length victory over It's Tricky last year in the Ladies Classic. She will be ridden by Mike Smith.
"What I admire Bill Mott and Ian Wilkes for is they're not always just worried about the (purse) money," De Luca said. "If they think (a particular race) is a good place for a horse, they will come (to the Downs)."
Other TBD connections today: Oldsmar trainer Tom Proctor saddles Marketing Mix in the Filly and Mare Turf, joining 2012 Endeavour and Hillsborough winner Zagora; and Romp (Marathon).
On Saturday, the Downs is represented by Great Attack and Bridgetown, winners of the past two Turf Dashes (Turf Sprint), and 2011 Sophomore Stakes runnerup Turbo Compressor (Turf). In the Filly and Mare Sprint, TBD conditioner William Bradley starts favored Groupie Doll with Downs graduate Belle of the Hall in the field. Two ex-top jockeys at Oldsmar have mounts Saturday: Jose Lezcano aboard Ron the Greek (Classic) and Strike the Moon (Filly and Mare Sprint), and Willie Martinez on Trinniberg (Sprint).