OLDSMAR — Tampa Bay Downs lost one of its Kentucky Derby qualifying races Friday when Churchill Downs announced the Grade III $250,000 Sam F. Davis was one of four stakes races dropped in the 2014 Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
The removal of the Sam F. Davis, a race worth 17 points, leaves Tampa Bay Downs with one qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby: the Grade II $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, a 1�-mile race that offers 85 total points (50 to the winner) in the series.
Tampa Bay Downs had no comment on the move by Churchill Downs, which did not provide a reason for the change. This year's Sam F. Davis winner, Falling Sky, did run in the Derby. The Sam F. Davis is a prep for the Tampa Bay Derby.
This was the first year a tiered point system was used to earn a ticket to the Kentucky Derby. Previously, qualifying was based on graded stakes earnings.
Other races dropped in the Derby series: CashCal Futurity at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif.; the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.; and the Royal Lodge at Newmarket in Suffolk, England. Two races were added: the Iroquois at Churchill Downs, and the Jerome at Aqueduct in Jamaica, N.Y. Also, the Lexington at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., had its points reduced.
A total of 34 races make up the revised qualifying format.
Marsella kennel rises at Derby Lane
Move over and get out of the way.
When Heather Marsella noticed many greyhounds at Derby Lane shared that running attitude, she and her husband, Phil, began incorporating that demeanor into their kennel.
It has been working.
Marsella Racing kennel has been on a steady rise at the St. Petersburg track since arriving 13 months ago. Led by trainer John Farmer, it entered Friday in third place in the 16-kennel standings with 52 victories. It was behind only defending champion Red Oak Racing (87) and three-time leading kennel Patriot (72).
"Isn't this neat? It's exciting and you feel accomplished," Heather, 47, said. "The first six months you get discouraged and wonder if we were ever going to make it. The first three months weren't so bad; we were prepared for that. But the bottom of the (first) six months was hard. It was costing a lot of money.
"With John, we knew it would spin around. The dogs are everything to him. You always want to be in the top five kennels because then you know everything is working right."
Marsella has a full operation with more than 60 greyhounds. Many are producing regular paychecks with top-four finishes. In 358 starts since July 1, Marsella's in-the-money percentage of 55.9 is its best in three meets. The kennel had in-the-money percentages the first two meets of 42.3 and 47.5, respectively. Marsella ranked 13th with 134 victories in its first meet, and 10th with 173 wins the following meet.
Heather said a "mini-horse" would describe her ideal dog at Derby Lane.
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"Watching some of the races, some of the dogs will not slow down (and) not back off," she said. "It's like they're the only dog on the track. They have speed with power, like a mini-horse."
Rams Contango and Rams Bluethunder have led the charge, both supplied by Johnny and Cheryl Pharrams of Meza, Ariz. Rams Contango finished fifth in the $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile Stakes in May.
"It's exciting to watch them run because they don't look like they're going to even make the (tote) board," Heather said. "Then all of a sudden, they win the race."
Another major Marsella contributor has been Deco Ella Lee, a two-time stakes runner who was eighth in the $30,000 St. Petersburg Derby in June for owner David Hays of Waco, Texas.
MORE DOGS: Venus Espinosa of Patriot picked up his 70th career victory Monday night.