OLDSMAR— Exhilaration today, exhale on Sunday.
Tampa Bay Downs has it all this weekend, the traditional closing programs of its 91-day meet.
Excitement will be abundant this evening as the 92-year-old Downs can claim back-to-back winners in the Kentucky Derby for the first time in history. The atmosphere will be more subdued Sunday on fan appreciation day, which marks the end of live racing until the June 30-July 1 Summer Festival of Racing.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, whose two Derby winners ran at the Downs — Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017 — can hit the trifecta if his Magnum Moon or Vino Rosso reaches the finish line first in the 144th running of the Run for the Roses (Race 12, 6:48 p.m.). Pletcher also has Audible and Noble Indy in the starting gate.
Sam F. Davis winner Flameaway is the Downs' third representative in the first leg of the Triple Crown at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The race will be available via simulcast at the Downs, Derby Lane in St. Petersburg and Tampa Greyhound Track.
Big turnouts are expected at area venues. Last year, the Downs attracted 11,006 fans, and Derby Lane drew 5,351 for its matinee program.
The Downs, which had its other Derby winner in 2007 with Street Sense, will feature a pair of $100,000 Florida Sire Stakes on today's 10-race card: The Ivanavinalot (Race 6, 3:08 p.m.) and the Silver Charm (Race 8, 4:42) for 3-year-olds, each at 1 mile, 40 yards on the main track.
Oldsmar has been a regular stop for Pletcher's Derby horses. Super Saver ran in the Tampa Bay Derby (third), and Always Dreaming broke his maiden at the Downs. The seven-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner stayed on course this year by entering Magnum Moon and Vino Rosso in Oldsmar allowance races (both won), and the latter also raced in the Sam F. Davis (third) and Tampa Bay Derby (fourth).
"Allison De Luca does a tremendous job as racing secretary (at the Downs), and she's been very helpful in accommodating some of our horses in some allowance races,'' Pletcher, 50, said. "At the same time, I think it's been great for Tampa to have some Derby winners come through there.
"First, logistically, it's a fairly short trip from our Palm Beach Downs headquarters (in Delray Beach). And secondly, in a lot of cases, it's a two-turn opportunity and to gain some experience and education for these horses.
"It's a very safe surface and reliable surface, one that helps get horses ready to go on to bigger races down the road. It's been a great outlet for us over the years to take horses through (the Downs). In some cases, like Always Dreaming (having) a maiden race, allowance races (for others) or Super Saver in the Tampa Derby, we've had some other horses that have gone that route that didn't win the (Kentucky) Derby. But getting races into Tampa Bay Downs has helped move them forward.''
The Downs jockey championship has been decided with Antonio Gallardo claiming his fourth title. Gerald Bennett leads Kathleen O'Connell 51-48 for top trainer and Richard Averill has a slim lead over G.L.A. Stable for top owner.