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Tampa Bay Downs regains some Kentucky Derby luster

OLDSMAR — Tampa Bay Downs was hit this week by Kentucky Derby fever.

After a three-year absence, the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes — a 1-1/16th-mile prep for the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby — rejoined the list of Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying races in 2016-17.

The move gives the Downs two Kentucky Derby-related events again, topped by the Tampa Bay Derby.

Officials from Churchill Downs, which monitors the Run for the Roses held annually on the first Saturday of May in Louisville, added the Sam F. Davis to the 35-race qualifying list and eliminated the Grade III Grey Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. One other change features an agreement between Churchill Downs and the Japan Racing Association to provide a potential Kentucky Derby starting spot for a Japanese-based horse. Those were the only adjustments to the series that uses a sliding point scale to the first four finishers in designated races to advance 3-year-olds to the Kentucky Derby.

"We are very pleased with (Churchill Downs) including the Sam F. Davis to the Road to the Kentucky Derby," Downs spokeswoman Margo Flynn said. "It's a race that has put a lot of horses into contention for the prestigious event, giving them a prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, and then going on to Louisville. It certainly deserves it."

Churchill Downs restructured its format for Kentucky Derby starters in the summer of 2012, moving from graded stakes earnings to a point system. In the format's first year in 2013, the Sam F. Davis was part of the series. But the race was removed from the list the following year for undisclosed reasons.

The Sam F. Davis, which carried a $250,000 purse this year, is scheduled for Feb. 11. It will be part of the 19-race Kentucky Derby Prep Season grouping with a sliding point scale of 10-4-2-1 to the first four finishers.

"Getting points (in the Sam F. Davis) will allow for more eyes to be upon our race at that time of year," Flynn said.

The Tampa Bay Derby, the Downs' signature race with a $350,000 purse this season, is part of the 16-race Kentucky Derby Championship Series with a sliding point scale of 50-20-10-5. It is set for March 11.

In the Sam F. Davis' lone year as a Kentucky Derby point race, nine horses were entered in the race won by Falling Sky. The Grey Stakes attracted six or fewer starters in three of its past four races.

Seven of the 12 previous Sam F. Davis winners have advanced to the Kentucky Derby, including Destin, who became the first horse this season to win the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby since 2001.

The Road to the Kentucky Derby series kicks off today with the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Racing resumes at the Oldsmar oval on Nov. 26.

DOGS: The $50,000 Husker Magic Fall Sprint has qualifying tonight in Races 6 and 10 at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg.