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Top jockeys converge on Tampa Bay Downs

For several weeks, it looked as if Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt's highly regarded Traitor, second in the 1996 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park, would be the marquee player for Sunday's $100,000 Tampa Bay Derby. Along with Traitor would come Jerry Bailey, the best jockey in America.

Instead, trainer Mary Eppler opted to enter Traitor in Monday's $100,000 OBS Championship Stakes in Ocala, where New York regular John Velazquez is listed as the rider. The Tampa Bay Derby winds up with Zede, who is owned by Allen Paulson, the 1996 Eclipse Award winner as the country's leading owner; trained by Billy Mott, the 1996 Eclipse Award winner as leading trainer; and to be ridden by Bailey, the 1996 Eclipse Award winner as leading jockey. It doesn't get much better than that.

Zede, a 3-year-old colt by Paulson's successful sire, Strawberry Road, won his last start in allowance company at Gulfstream Park, and drew the coveted No.

1 post in Friday's draw. For the past two years, Paulson, Mott and Bailey became known as Team Cigar as they orchestrated the 16-race winning streak of Paulson's great runner, who was rewarded with two championships.

Bailey won't be the only invader from the top of the nation's leading rider list. Shane Sellers, the regular rider of Pulpit, will make the trip to Oldsmar to ride Stormy Cloud for trainer Elliott Walden. Sellers just beat out Bailey in the jockeys' race that concluded at Gulfstream Park on Sunday. Stormy Cloud was a minor stakes winner at Laurel and finished third in the Maryland track's Horatius Stakes in his last start. He's the 3-1 favorite in the morning line and as a stakes winner, will carry highweight of 122 pounds.

Jose Santos will fly in to ride What A Claim for trainer Bobby Hale. The colt by Claim is listed at 8-1 on the early line.

The companion feature on Tampa's biggest afternoon is the $150,000 Florida Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies. In one respect, it's more important than the Derby because it has Grade III status. Bailey, Sellers and Santos are named on runners in this one, too.

CIGAR: The insurance company holding the $25-million infertility policy on Cigar has agreed to allow the 7-year-old to cease breeding, according to Richard Craigo, attorney for owner-breeder Allen Paulson. Cigar's policy, arranged through Nelson Stevenson Bloodstock, a London-based broker, required that the horse be bred to 20 mares twice and get at least 60 percent of them in foal to be considered fertile. None of the 34 mares bred to him has become pregnant.

CAPTAIN BODGIT: Top Kentucky Derby contender Captain Bodgit might not be allowed to run in a rematch against Pulpit in the Blue Grass Stakes because of a mistake entering him. Officials at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., said they have no record of the colt's nomination to the April 12 race.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Tampa Bay Derby

Post positions for Sunday's Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs with horse, jockey and weight:

1. Zede (Bailey, J.) 118

2. Tan Bird (Daniels, B.) 116

3. Odyssee (Layton, F.) 116

4. Chin Up (Lopez, R.) 116

5. Ship Liner (Bacon, P.) 116

6. Magical Appeal (Buckley, P.) 116

7. Brisco Jack (Houghton, T.) 116

8. Roberto's Pride (Nunez, E.) 116

9. Stormy Cloud (Sellers, S.) 122

10. What A Claim (Santos, J.) 116

11. Wilt The Tilt (Gonzalez, L.) 118

12. Favorable Regard (Whitley, K.) 118

Florida Oaks

Post positions for Sunday's Florida Oaks Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs with horse, jockey and weight:

1. Roana Gale (Suckie, M.) 118

2. Labriche (Garcia, J.) 111

3. Pyrite Anne (Henry, W.) 111

4. Prospective Rosie (Garcia, J.) 111

5. Our Pearl (Layton, F.) 111

6. Screamer (Santos, J.) 114

7. Kayo C (Bacon, P.) 111

8. Global Star (Bailey, J.) 117

9. Anklet (Sellers, S.) 118

10. Does Talk (Lopez, R.) 111