To commingle or not to commingle, that is the question. The handle at Tampa Bay Downs for Sunday's Tampa Bay Derby-Florida Oaks program was broken down into two columns. In the first, wagers made at the track or through the various other wagering sites totaled $1,209,088. That included a handle of $556,539 on track.
There were four tracks that didn't bet through the Tampa pool; in other words, didn't commingle _ Sportsman's Park, Turf Paradise, Fair Grounds and Suffolk Downs. The wagers at those tracks totaled $408,932, although Fair Grounds and Suffolk handled the Derby but not the Oaks.
An interesting number was the one that came from Derby Lane, which was allowed to take wagers on the races. The dog players bet $45,969.
KEEP ON TRUCKIN': Two of the most intriguing runners who have competed at Tampa Bay Downs for the past several seasons were in action last week.
On Tuesday, 14-year-old Sharon Caper made the 216th start of his long career and won for the first time since September.
Three days later, 8-year-old Mansion made his 60th start, finishing third and finally reaching the $100,000 mark in earnings.
Sharon Caper came to Oldsmar after a successful invasion of New England last summer, where his performances at Rockingham Park and Northampton left him on the verge of reaching $100,000.
But the gelding was unable to finish better than eighth in five local starts. He broke the streak last week, getting a check of $2,880 for owner Florence Huguenin and raising his career total to $97,491 on a record of 30-31-28.
Mansion has been another story. The son of Native Royalty can seemingly compete on any claiming level at Tampa and hold his own. At this meeting, he began by winning for $3,000, and has subsequently been third for $5,000, $7,000, $20,000 and $10,500.
In between, he won again for $3,000 and was claimed, and is now racing in the colors of longtime Tampa regulars Mary and Bobby Hodge. When Mansion finished third for $10,500 on Friday, he passed the $100,000 milestone. He's 17-14-7 in his 60 starts despite not winning in 13 tries in 1996.
STRONG FINISH: Troy Johnson made a strong late move Saturday to win the first handicapping contest at Tampa Bay Downs.
Johnson, a regular at the track, was in second place late in the day but made a $200 win bet on Wind Share, who paid $7, to overtake the leader with a final bankroll of $3,219.
He earned a prize of $1,500 and an expense-paid trip to the Penn National World Series of Handicapping on Oct. 3 at Harrisburg, Pa.
The runner-up with $2,390 was John Wiser, who won the first of two preliminary rounds. Johnson finished seventh in his preliminary, after which the top 10 from each returned for Saturday's finale.
DERBY LANE: The 22nd annual Sprint Classic begins Saturday night. A field of 32 will compete over the 5/16th-mile course Saturday and April 2. It will be cut to 16 for racing April 5, with the semifinals on April 9. The top eight will race April 12 for over $25,000.
GOLDEN RETURN: Lester Raines' Fortress Of Gold is scheduled for the Sprint Classic. Last year, the speedster set a 5/16th-mile record of 30.17, eclipsing the 30.30 by Epic Prince in 1994.
Fortress Of Gold, coming off a five-week layoff, won Saturday night. She will be joined in the Sprint Classic by kennelmate Ellen Ann, 1996 wins leader.
CHANGING GEARS: Derby Lane's top three-eighth-mile racer, MN's Mr. Jersey, also is scheduled to run in the Sprint Classic. Mr. Jersey won his 5/16th-mile race Saturday.
He has not coursed the shorter distance since his Inaugural competition in January. Mr. Jersey, and the season's fastest sprinter, Ske's Dixie Nick, tops the list of Randy Floyd kennel entries.
JACKPOT CAPPED: Tri-Super is capped at $30,482. If no one hits the jackpot during today's matinee, it will be a force payout tonight. The Tri-Super is played in Races 2 and 4.
JAI ALAI: Former Tampa star Arra II and Iru, from Orlando Jai-Alai, are co-leaders heading into the third round of the $150,000 Florida Tournament of Champions Friday night at Tampa Jai-Alai.
Tickets are on sale, and the first 1,000 fans will get free tournament T-shirts.
Dania's Alberdi-Cuvet have a share of the lead with 31 points, and Michelena and Largo native Daniel, from Miami Jai-Alai, are third with 28 points. Tampa's Areitio-Iruta are in fifth with 20 points.
"We came in third last year so we know we can compete against the best in the world," backcourter Iruta said. "Hopefully we will play better at home this week."
Arra II-Iru scored 14 straight points in winning the final two games at Orlando Friday. They used the two straight-point victories to move from fifth to first.
Arra II spent 10 years playing in Tampa, his last the Triple Crown season of 1993, and he is confident he will play well in his return.
"I'm looking forward to returning to Tampa where I played for so long," he said. "I have a special place in my heart for Tampa. It will definitely be a homecoming for me."
For Daniel, coming home just three points off the lead is encouraging: "We seem to have picked up a little steam. I love to play in Tampa in front of the family and friends, so hopefully we can pick up some points on the leaders."
For information, call 441-9469 (Pinellas) or 831-1411 (Hillsborough). Tournament Web site is www.worldjaialai.com.
_ Correspondents Vera Filipelli and Shane Best contributed to this report.