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Horse racing at Tampa Bay Downs starts again today

TAMPA — Shortly after horses enter the paddock area, jockeys will leave with riding instructions. It is post time at Tampa Bay Downs.

The track begins its 83rd season of thoroughbred racing today, a 94-day meet that will be unprecedented and demanding. For the first time, TBD will host five graded stakes races. It also faces an economic downturn.

"It will be a challenging year," TBD spokeswoman Margo Flynn said. "We've certainly made adjustments to make it more fan-friendly. We want people to come out and enjoy the races. That's always been the main thrust at Tampa Bay Downs, and it will continue to be."

The $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby remains the signature race of TBD's 26-race stakes program with a total purse of $2.76-million. But the track is still abuzz over the $225,000 Sam F. Davis recently achieving graded status, joining the $200,000 Florida Oaks, $175,000 Hillsborough, $150,000 Endeavour Breeders' Cup and Tampa Bay Derby as Grade III events.

"(Sam F. Davis being graded) helps you get good horses because they need graded money to get into the (Kentucky) Derby," racing secretary Allison De Luca said. "We have a great stakes coordinator in Duane Christo, and our staff works as hard as we can to get good horses here for those races.

"We have a tremendous (racing) surface and turf course. That helps a lot."

More than 125 jockeys and 100 trainers have arrived. Eight of the top 10 riders from last year's meet are back along with all 10 leading conditioners. The group includes jockey Daniel Centeno and trainer Jamie Ness, each a two-time defending champion who set track records last season for wins and earnings. Second-leading rider Rosemary Homeister Jr. also returns and is two shy of 2,000 career victories.

One newcomer is Pascacio ''Paco'' Lopez, considered a leading contender for an Eclipse Award as apprentice rider. Lopez will ride at TBD until a suspension for riding infractions at Calder Race Course in Miami Gardens expires. He has been banned at Churchill Downs-owned tracks such as Calder through Jan. 2 but will be allowed to ride at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.

Stricter guidelines for horses' androgenic anabolic steroids, drug testing and toe grabs on front feet also have been instituted at TBD.

The $65,000 Lightning City Stakes (Race 10, 4:41 p.m.), an about 5-furlong turf test for fillies and mares 3 years and older, headlines today's 11-race card. The early-line favorite is What She Said, seeking her fourth straight win in the field of 10.

GREYHOUNDS: Round 3 action in the $75,000 660-Yard Challenge is tonight at Derby Lane in Petersburg. Qualifiers are Races 6 (8:51) and 10 (10:07).

Wagering expands

TBD reached an objective Friday afternoon by agreeing, in conjunction with the TBD Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, to have its racing signal available on advanced-deposit wagering venues Myracebet.com, Tracknet.com, Twinspires.com, Xpressbet.com and Youbet.com along with Television Games Network (TVG) and Horse Racing Television (HRTV). Details of the agreement were not disclosed.

fast facts

Tampa Bay Downs

What: 83rd year of thoroughbred racing

When/where: 94-day meet runs today through May 3;

11225 Race Track Road, Tampa

Times: Gates open at 11 a.m., first post at 12:25 p.m.

Admission: Grandstand free on weekdays, $2 on weekends; clubhouse $3 daily

Parking: General free; valet $5

Track circumferences: Dirt 1 mile; turf seven-eighths of a mile

Highlights: Dec. 27 — Cotillion Festival Day (2-year-olds only); Jan. 17 — Skyway Festival Day (Gasparilla and Pasco stakes for 3-year-olds); Feb. 14 — Festival Preview Day (Grade III stakes Sam F. Davis and Endeavour Breeders' Cup); March 14 — Festival Day (Grade III stakes Tampa Bay Derby, Florida Oaks and Hillsborough); April 4 — Florida Cup Day (six stakes for Florida-breds); May 2 — Kentucky Derby.

Notes: New wagers include high five and rolling daily doubles with reduced takeouts on Pick 3s, 4s and 6s. … Morning Glory Club with track announcer Richard Grunder interviewing personalities will be in the grandstand at 10 a.m. Saturdays beginning Dec. 27. … Parking across from TBD is limited because of road construction. … Simulcast wagering on thoroughbreds, standardbreds, greyhounds and jai alai; poker in the Silks Poker Room; golf at the Downs Golf Facility.

Information: (813) 855-4401, tampabaydowns.com

Horse racing at Tampa Bay Downs starts again today 12/12/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 11:56am]

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