The 2011-2012 Tampa Bay Downs stakes schedule features 25 events for runners of all ages and descriptions, while offering total purse money of approximately $2.6 million. Seven stakes races are offering increases of $25,000, fueled partially by contributions from the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association.
The Tampa Bay meet is highlighted by its annual Festival Day, slated this season for Saturday, March 10. The Festival’s centerpiece is the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II). The race has produced two of the last five Kentucky Derby winners--Street Sense in 2007 and Super Saver , who won the 2009 Run for the Roses after finishing third in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Also on the March 10 card are the $150,000, Hillsborough Stakes (gr. IIIT) and the newly sponsored Stonewall Farm Ocala Suncoast Stakes.
The Sam F. Davis Stakes , one of three stakes on the Feb. 4 racing card, has been increased to $250,000 while keeping its grade III status. The Davis is the main prep race for the Tampa Bay Derby.
Also on the Feb. 4 card are two $150,000 turf races at 1 1/16 miles: the Florida Oaks and the Endeavour Stakes (gr. IIIT). Both feature a 20% increase in purse money from last year. This is the second year the Florida Oaks will be run on the turf.
Another graded stakes on the calendar is the Feb. 25 Tampa Bay Stakes (gr. III). The purse has been raised to $150,000.
The opening-day stakes feature on Dec. 3 is the $75,000-guaranteed Lightning City Stakes. Post time each day is 12:25 p.m.
For horsemen, more welcome news comes in the form of a purse increase of $1,000 for all open claiming events from $16,000-$25,000, as well as a $1,000 increase for first-level allowance races.
Many of Tampa Bay Downs leading jockeys and trainers from past seasons are set to return in 2012. The track’s jockey colony next year will include veterans Rosemary Homeister, Ronnie Allen Jr., Leandro Goncalves, and Willie Martinez, and such up-and-comers as Huber Villa-Gomez, Pablo Morales, Fernando De La Cruz, Angel Serpa, Jermaine Bridgmohan, and Frederic Lenclud.
Top claiming trainers Jamie Ness and Gerald Bennett, who tied for the Tampa Bay Downs title last season with 61 victories apiece, are set to resume their competition Dec. 3. Other trainers expected to return to the track are Wayne Catalano, Graham Motion, Kathleen O’Connell, Jane Cibelli, Thomas Proctor, Jorge Navarro, Anthony Pecoraro, Gregory Griffith, and Lori Smock.
The list of Tampa Bay newcomers includes Buff Bradley, Michael Maker, Juan Vazquez, and Antonio Sano.
The 2011-12 meeting runs from December 3 through May 6.