Who could blame Tampa Bay racing fans today for feeling like kids in a candy store?
The 137th Kentucky Derby simulcast, Tampa Bay Downs' final weekend to the 2010-11 meet and one of Derby Lane's oldest stakes sweeten the first Saturday in May.
The Kentucky Derby (Race 11, 6:24 p.m.) from Churchill Downs is the centerpiece. All three of our area sites, including Tampa Greyhound Track, open their gates at 10 this morning for the undercard at Louisville, Ky. The Oldsmar track has Derby ties: two-time leading trainer Kathleen O'Connell and her Tampa Bay Derby winner Watch Me Go; Jesus Castanon, a former Downs back-to-back riding champion aboard Shackleford; and Graham Motion, an Oldsmar conditioner with trainee Animal Kingdom.
O'Connell can become the first woman trainer to win the Derby with Watch Me Go, the seventh Tampa Bay Derby winner in the past eight years to start the 1 1/4-mile race. Two Oldsmar graduates have taken the first leg of the Triple Crown: Super Saver in 2010 and Street Sense in 2007.
The Downs wraps up its 85th season Sunday with Fan Appreciation Day.
"The meet has been fantastic," track racing secretary Allison De Luca said. "We've had perfect weather, the horsemen really participated and our stakes were really good. We couldn't have asked for too much more."
Jockey Ronnie Allen Jr., 47, has wrapped up his first riding crown in 23 years. The trainer's title is going to the wire. Jamie Ness, 36, seeks his fifth consecutive championship and holds a 60-55 lead. Gerald Bennett, 67, is turning up the heat. With 23 races scheduled the next two days, Bennett has entered 12 horses to four by Ness. Last year, Ness tied O'Connell on the final day to share the title.
At Derby Lane, the Derby simulcast, a matinee-evening doubleheader of greyhound racing and the start of the 72nd annual Gold Trophy Juvenile ensure a busy day. "The Kentucky Derby is one of our biggest days (and) definitely the biggest simulcast day of the year," track spokeswoman Vera Rasnake said. "We've had record crowds the last two years."
Derby Lane's matinee attendance on the past two Derby days have been 6,224 and 6,128, respectively.
The $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile, a 550-yard sprint for young dogs, begins tonight with the first of four qualifying rounds in Races 4, 6, 8 and 10. Nova kennel goes for its third victory in a row in the Gold Trophy Juvenile. Its top entry is Hi Noon Renegade, winner of the $64,000 Sprint Classic on March 5. Trained by Rosa Gibbs, Hi Noon Renegade drew box 1 in Race 10 (10:11 p.m.). Track racing director Jerry Miller said Abernathy kennel's Magic Finch, who won the $80,000 Distance Classic on April 9, was not entered because of a slight injury. Eight pups with the most accumulative points from the 32-dog field advance to the finale May 21. First place pays $9,000.