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Downs' new turf course, Derby simulcast draw crowd

The Kentucky Derby has been simulcast to Tampa Bay Downs for years, but never has such a crowd turned out as did Saturday.

The first turf race in 71 years helped increase the gate to 8,669, the second-largest crowd in the track's history.

The honor of winning the first turf race _ a $15,000 overnight handicap at 1 1/16 miles _ went to Philip Williams' Ship Liner. The favorite, under Kevin Whitley, hugged the rail around the final turn, then came out and roared past pace-setting Pawn Brat in the closing yards to win by half a length. Pawn Brat held on for second, a nose ahead of fast-closing Oak Springs Ace.

"I like the course," Whitley said. "My horse handled it well. The turns are a little sharp, but that's the way most of them are. The only difference is the grass is a little short right now compared to other courses."

With the win, Whitley moved one step closer to a career milestone. The turf victory was his third of the afternoon and when he made it four in the final race aboard Silver Cyclone, he boosted his career total to 2,984, drawing closer to the magic 3,000 mark. With Tampa Bay Downs closing after today's program, Whitley will head back to his summer home, Finger Lakes in northern New York, to continue his quest.

Track superintendent Bobby Cassanese was elated with the response to the new turf course _ all eight riders praised it after the race. Cassanese said the grass is shorter now because the track is trying to find the right combination. "We kept it a little shorter to excite the grass," he said. "So it was shorter than we'll have it next year."

For Ship Liner, this was the culmination of a dream meeting, one in which he began racing in $12,500 claiming company on Jan. 13. Since Williams claimed him out of that race, the 4-year-old gelding by Dawn Quixote has won four times in six tries. Before Saturday, his turf record wasn't anything to write home about, a victory and a third in eight starts. Ship Liner was bred by Sol Garazi and Fred Berens, who stand Dawn Quixote at their Solred Farm in Ocala.

The crowd wagered $440,641 on the Tampa races, plus another $250,720 on the Kentucky Derby. The total bet on Tampa's races from all sources reached $1,046,835, and the total bet on the Derby through bay area windows was $1,205,835.

Saturday's success, from all angles, can be summed in one word, the same word just about every jockey used to describe the turf course: Excellent.

2,000 GUINEAS: Ireland's King Of Kings, ridden by Michael Kinane, dethroned French champion Xaar to win a first British classic victory for trainer Aidan O'Brien at Newmarket, England. "He's always been a brilliant horse," said O'Brien, 28, who had never saddled a runner in a British classic. With 10-11 favorite Xaar struggling, King Of Kings went by Lend A Hand a furlong out and won by 1{ lengths. Border Arrow finished third.

JOCKEY DIES: Jockey Kemberly Stogner died of injuries from a fall in a training race she won at Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Okla. Stogner was thrown into the infield when her 3-year-old mount, W.T. Taylor, hit the rail after crossing the finish line in a race with three other horses on Friday. The horse was euthanized.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.