This is one of the Tampa Bay area's top racing days of the year. The beginning is big, the ending is excellent, and the middle could be marvelous for a Tampa Bay Downs trainer.
The Downs kicks off the action with its eighth annual Florida Cup Day, highlighted by six $85,000 stakes races on the Oldsmar thoroughbred track's 12-race card (first post is 12:27 p.m.). The 51st edition of the $100,000 Distance Classic, Derby Lane's richest greyhound race, resumes in St. Petersburg with third-round qualifying on the 15-race evening performance (first post at 7:30 p.m.).
Late this afternoon, Downs trainer Derek Ryan saddles two standout colts in Grade I races at Aqueduct in Jamaica, N.Y. Tampa Bay Derby and Sam F. Davis runnerup Schoolyard Dreams tries to seal a Kentucky Derby berth in the $750,000 Wood Memorial (Race 9, 5:12 p.m.). And Musket Man, third in last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness, can win his first Grade I event and reach $1 million in career earnings in the $250,000 Carter Handicap (Race 10, 5:45 p.m.).
Ramon Dominguez, the nation's leading jockey, has both mounts. Schoolyard Dreams had been slated to run today in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne in Cicero until Ryan made the switch. Schoolyard Dreams ranks 33rd on the Kentucky Derby graded earnings list with $100,000; the field is limited to 20 starters. Downs graduate Game Ball is in the Illinois Derby (Race 7, 5:36 p.m.). Another key Kentucky Derby prep today is the Santa Anita Derby (Race 6, 5:36 p.m.) in Arcadia, Calif.
Florida Cup Day focuses on state-bred horses. The stakes (Races 4-9) are the final ones of the Downs meet. They will be contested from 6 furlongs to 11/8th miles, three each on the main track and turf course. Trainer Tom Proctor, who is tied for third in lifetime Florida Cup Day wins with three — two behind leader William Mott — entered six horses in five stakes: El Wildcat (Sophomore), Closeout and Happiness Is (Turf Distaff), Family Foundation (Sophomore Turf), Sweet N Sour Nina (Sophomore Fillies) and No Inflation (Turf Classic). In the Sprint, Jamie Ness-trainee Sneaking Uponyou goes for his third stakes win of the meet, and Blind River Fox seeks his 25th lifetime victory for conditioner Gerald Bennett.
At Derby Lane, McAllister Kennels' Flying Coal City and Kiowa Knockout try to remain unbeaten in 660-yard Distance Classic qualifiers. Flying Coal City carries a six-race win streak into Race 6 (8:55 p.m.). He clocked a season's best time of 36.84 seconds Wednesday, the best time at the track since 2006, when Jr's Boy set the course record at 36.53. Kiowa Knockout goes for her fourth straight victory in Race 10 (10:11 p.m.)
EASTER SCHEDULE: Derby Lane and Tampa Greyhound Track will be open for poker and simulcast wagering Sunday. Tampa Bay Downs will be closed.