Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Sports

Races make Tampa Bay Downs history

OLDSMAR — Over the past decade, Oldsmar has become Louisville South.

It is a major Kentucky Derby player, often sending 3-year-olds from Tampa Bay Downs to the Run for the Roses. Two area graduates have won the Derby; two others were Derby-placed.

The Triple Crown trail goes through Oldsmar again this year, beginning this afternoon with a historic Festival Preview Day. For the first time in 87 years, the Downs has three graded stakes races on one card. And the featured race, the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, will be the first Oldsmar event to award points in the new Road to the Kentucky Derby series. The Mark Casse-trained entries of Dynamic Sky and Northern Lion are 9-5 morning-line favorites.

Joining the Sam F. Davis (Race 11, 5:23 p.m.) are the Endeavour (Race 9, 4:23) and the Florida Oaks (Race 7, 3:23), both with $150,000 purses for females on turf. All three 1 1/16th-mile events are Grade IIIs.

The Sam F. Davis and the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9 passed the litmus test when Churchill Downs officials announced in June it would switch to a points-based system to determine the Kentucky Derby starting field, replacing the graded earnings criteria used from 1984-2012.

The Sam F. Davis is one of 19 races worth 17 points (first four finishers earn points on a scale of 10-4-2-1), and the Tampa Bay Derby is one of eight with 85 (50-20-10-5). Overall, 36 races have points, seven with 170 (100-40-20-10).

"Some tough decisions had to be made," Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers said. "But as we turned to the races at Tampa Bay, their two races were viewed favorably.

"The Sam F. Davis, in the last 10 years, has produced 14 starters in the Kentucky Derby. The races that are in advance of what we call the 10-week Kentucky Derby Championship Season, from late September to late February, are viewed as foundation-building races that are helping horses develop for the looming Triple Crown push."

Rogers said 40 points should put a horse in the Kentucky Derby on May 4, making the Tampa Bay Derby winner an automatic qualifier. Fifteen Kentucky Derby starters have advanced from the Tampa Bay Derby in the past 10 years. Street Sense (2007) and Super Saver ('10) won the Kentucky Derby. Bluegrass Cat ('06) finished second, and Musket Man ('09) was third.

"The merits of the graded stakes system became annually debated within the industry for the past decade," Rogers said. "And while it worked reasonably well, it became less effective and dependable in recent years because of the flow of large amounts of casino and slot-machine revenues in the stakes purses at some tracks.

"Our primary driving motive is to create new fans, maximize the quality of the Derby field and to protect the integrity of the race. This is not about rewriting history. It's about looking to the future."

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