The 35th renewal of the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) for 3-year-olds highlights a 2014-2015 Tampa Bay Downs stakes schedule offering $2.66 million in purse money.
Contested at 1 1/16 miles on the main dirt oval, the Tampa Bay Derby headlines a March 7 Festival Day program that includes four stakes races worth a combined $760,000 in purse money, making it the most lucrative day of racing in the track's 89-year history.
The Tampa Bay Derby is part of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series" points system, with the first four finishers earning 50, 20, 10 and 5 points, respectively, toward a starting-gate berth in Louisville, Ky., on the first Saturday in May.
Rounding out the Festival Day stakes card are the $200,000 Florida Oaks (gr. IIIT) on turf for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles; the $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes (gr. IIIT) on turf for older fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles; and the $60,000 Challenger Stakes on dirt for 4-year-olds and older going 1 1/16 miles.
The 2014-2015 Tampa Bay Downs Thoroughbred season, which began July 1, is set to resume Nov. 29 and run through June 30, 2015.
"The Kentucky Derby victories by our 2007 Tampa Bay Derby winner, Street Sense , and our 2010 third-place finisher, Super Saver , have elevated our showcase race to national prominence and made it a significant Triple Crown prep," said Peter Berube, track vice president and general manager.
"By running four stakes on the same card, Festival Day 2015 is certain to be one of the most exciting and memorable afternoons in track history," Berube added. "Our three other Festival Day stakes have produced Breeders' Cup race winners, an Eclipse Award champion, and two winners of the Kentucky Oaks. Fans can again expect to see exciting Thoroughbred competition of the highest quality, both on March 7 and throughout the season."
The full stakes schedule kicks off Dec. 6 with Cotillion Festival Day presented by Lambholm South, featuring a pair of $100,000 races for 2-year-olds at six furlongs: the Inaugural Stakes and the Sandpiper Stakes for fillies.
The second-biggest stakes day of the meeting is the Jan. 31 Festival Preview Day presented by Lambholm South program, showcasing three stakes worth a combined $500,000 headlined by the 35th edition of the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) for 3-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles.
The Festival Preview Day card also features the $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the turf for older fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles, and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes on dirt for 3-year-old fillies at one-mile-and-40-yards.
The Jan. 24 card is a "Pre-Festival Preview Day" card, with three stakes worth $350,000. Topping the list is the $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the turf for 4-year-olds and up going 1 1/16 miles.
Other offerings that day include the $100,000 Lightning City Stakes on the turf for older fillies and mares at five furlongs, and the $100,000 Pelican Stakes on the main track for horses 4-years-old and up at six furlongs.
On April 4, the track holds its 13th annual Florida Cup Day celebration including six state-bred stakes races worth a combined $450,000 in purse money, with three of the races on the turf course.
Additional highlights of the stakes schedule include the Dec. 27 Skyway Festival Day card, featuring the $100,000 Pasco Stakes for 2-year-olds—a seven-furlong event some horsemen use as a Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby prep. Also scheduled that day is the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes for 2-year-old fillies along with the the $100,000 Turf Dash for older horses on Jan. 10.