Edited from Tampa Bay Downs release--
The 80th season of live Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs opens Dec. 10 with changes aimed at impressing racing fans, including bigger payouts on exacta, daily double, quinella, pick 3, and pick 4 wagering. The track's 26 stakes races will be run for more than $2.3 million
With 25 stalls, California-based trainer Jerry Hollendorfer--North America's fifth winningest trainer in history with more than 4,400 lifetime wins-- is among Tampa Bay Downs' new conditioners who will challenge the veteran barns of Kirk Ziadie, Lynne Scace, and last year's leading trainer, Don Rice.
"Watching Tampa Bay Downs racing on simulcast, I was impressed by the attractive turf track, the Florida-breds, and the great weather," said Hollendorfer.
The track's stakes schedule kicks off opening day with the $60,000 Inaugural Stakes for 2-year-olds. Also, four multi-stakes Saturdays highlight the program.
Festival Day returns March 18, the biggest day in racing on Florida's West Coast, which drew a record crowd of 10,246 in 2005. The 26th running of the $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) for 3-year-old colts, a stop on the Kentucky Derby trail, highlights the day.
The $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes (gr. IIIT), the $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies and the $75,000 Turf Dash for 3-year-olds and upward are also on the card.
Festival Preview Day returns Feb. 18, featuring three stakes: the $125,000 Endeavour Breeders' Cup for older fillies and mares, the $60,000 Suncoast for 3-year-old fillies and the $125,000 Sam F. Davis for 3-year-olds, the latter an increasingly important race among Kentucky Derby preps.
The Florida Cup Day tradition continues April 8th giving Florida-breds a chance to compete for an estimated $500,000 in purses. The card features six, $75,000 stakes races for 3-year-olds and three stakes for older horses at a variety of distances on both dirt and turf.
For all cards during the 2005-06 meet, bettors will enjoy increased payouts on many exotic wagers. The track has lowered its takeout as follows: Daily double and quinellas are 20%, 2.5% less than last season; pick 3 and pick 4 are at 25%, down .9%; exacta wagers will have a 21.5% takeout, down 1%.
In addition to Hollendorfer, other first-time trainers in Tampa this season include Merrill Scherer, formerly a winter regular at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, and Californians Wesley Ward and Lonnie Arterburn.
Ward has been a fixture at Gulfstream Park over the past three years. Arterburn, who in 2000 won the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) with Rings a Chime and the El Camino Real Derby with Remember Sheikh, is new to Florida racing.
A talented jockey colony returns for the 2005-06 meet, including rising star Jose Lezcano. This summer, the 20-year-old Lezcano won the Delaware Oaks (gr. II) aboard R Lady Joy, the 2005 Florida Oaks winner trained by Kirk Ziadie. Lezcano also had success at Saratoga Race and Monmouth.
Former Tampa Bay Downs leading rider T.D. Houghton is back with his more than 3,250 career wins. At Great Lakes Downs this year, Houghton won at more than a 20 % clip, with 178 victories in 780 starts.
Winston Thompson, riding leader at Suffolk Downs this season with 158 wins from 799 starts, also returns to the track.
Jockey Aurelio Toribio, Jr., will make the move to Oldsmar from Calder, where he is a fixture near the top of the rider standings.
The veteran jockey colony, including both Joe Rocco Jr., and Sr., should be energized by the absence of last season's leading rider Jesus Castanon. Castanon does not plan a return to Tampa Bay Downs this season. He will continue to ride at Kentucky tracks through the winter.