OLDSMAR — Nothing will whet the appetites of area racing fans today more than breakfast and a couple of stakes.
Tampa Bay Downs offers that combo on the first major card of its 2013-14 season: Cotillion Festival Day, mainly for 2-year-old thoroughbreds.
This is the fourth program in the Downs' 91-day meet. The Oldsmar oval's 88th season started July 1, giving it year-round, live-racing status and enabling it to generate additional money through simulcast wagering sites. Racing resumed Wednesday with jockey Fernando De La Cruz recording his 1,000th career victory aboard Jungle Princess for trainer Jamie Ness, who is attempting to tie the late Don Rice for most training championships in the modern era with eight. Ness has won or shared titles the past seven years, and he captured his 2,000th lifetime victory Nov. 28 at Laurel Park (Md.).
The Downs' 15 percent purse increase, a result of additional simulcast revenue, has been an instant hit with 97 horses entered in today's 10 races. All but Race 2 feature 2-year-olds.
"Extra money helps everybody out, and it draws more people and better horses," stakes coordinator Gerry Stanislawzyk said. "The people we have (at the Downs) just love to run and they help out big time (with entries). We've got people from Miami coming up to help us out, too."
Today is a microcosm of what the Downs faces this year. It shares many racing dates with Calder in Miami Gardens and Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, which have key programs this afternoon. Calder has three Grade III races; Gulfstream Park plays host to the 15th annual Claiming Crown, a $1 million, eight-race national event for blue-collar horses.
Breakfast at the Downs (8-10 a.m.) kicks off the Oldsmar festivities. The event, open to the public, takes place in the tent near the paddock and allows fans to watch horses work out and meet trainers and jockeys.
Two $100,000 stakes races at 6 furlongs on the main track highlight the racing. The Sandpiper (Race 6, 2:53 p.m.) attracted seven fillies, including undefeated Enquete for trainer Todd Pletcher. Eight colts and geldings are in the Inaugural (8, 3:51). A top Inaugural foe is Cool Cowboy for conditioner Dale Bennett, who returns to the Downs after a two-year hiatus in Illinois.
Only one stakes entry has a stakes victory: Sandpiper sprinter Secret Kitten (Cassidy Stakes winner at Calder). She is conditioned by two-time leading trainer Kathleen O'Connell, the Downs defending purse earnings champion. O'Connell also starts Flatter This in the $200,000 Jewel Stakes (Race 10, 5:03), the richest Claiming Crown event at Gulfstream Park.
First post at the Downs is 12:25 p.m.
GREYHOUNDS: Third-round qualifying in the $75,000 Holiday Distance Challenge is tonight in Races 6 (8:55 p.m.) and 10 (10:11) at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg.