ST. PETERSBURG — It is March, when clocks move ahead and major stakes contenders come forward.
For Derby Lane and Tampa Bay Downs, racing reaches the pinnacle with five of their richest races on the calendar.
The St. Petersburg greyhound track hosts the $85,000 Sprint Classic final tonight and begins qualifying for the $100,000 Distance Classic on March 28. At TBD, stakes are high March 14 when Kentucky Derby candidates start in the Grade III $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby. The Festival Day undercard includes two other Grade III races, the $200,000 Florida Oaks and $175,000 Hillsborough Stakes, and the $75,000 Turf Dash.
Despite the economy, history points to a flurry of activity on the tracks' top cards. On 2008 Sprint Classic final night, Derby Lane had the meet's second-highest handle ($616,046) and third-best attendance (3,727). At TBD, 2008 Festival Day had an all-time crowd of 12,746 and comingled handle of $10,282,952, best of the meet and third best in the track's 83 years.
In the Sprint Classic (Race 10, 10:07 p.m.), eight sprinters go to the starting box for the 550-yard final. Qualifiers from the rail: Craigie Mr Venus, Julia Ww Garland, Flying Regent, Tmc's Trail Boss, Extruder, Flyin Home Depot, Flying Mancini and Born To Dream. They represent five of the 16 kennels at Derby Lane, which lost the dissolved Rian Racing recently. The winner picks up $25,000.
TBD has stakes racing this afternoon with Judi Hicklin trainee Wayzata Bay, a Grade II winner, trying to defend his title in the $65,000 Challenger Stakes (Race 7, 3:16 p.m.)
This also is a key month for the TBD Race Track Chaplaincy of America division. It holds its 17th annual Hearts Reaching Out fundraiser March 16. A golf tournament with a four-player scramble is at 11 a.m. at Wentworth Golf Club in Tarpon Springs. Live and silent auctions and dinner at TBD's tent pavilion wrap up the event. Auction items include race and sports memorabilia, autographed merchandise and paintings. All activity is open to the public. Funds help benefit programs such as church services, English classes, medical examinations and hardship issues for more than 400 workers on the track backside. For information, contact TBD-RTCA president Sharyn Wasiluk at (813) 494-1870 or (813) 298-1576. Festival Day activities kick off Friday at TBD with horse-racing comedian Mark Klein featured at Festival in the Skye. For information, call (813) 855-4401.
Oaklawn Park: The Hot Springs, Ark., track announced increases in its purses, citing a seasonlong increase in attendance and wagering. Beginning with Friday's card, Oaklawn raised overnight claiming purses by at least $300. Maiden special weight race purses climbed by $1,000 to $35,000.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.