OLDSMAR, FL. – The $150,000 Florida Oaks, Tampa Bay Downs’ premier race for 3-year-old fillies, has been elevated to Grade III status by the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association in Lexington, Ky.

The Florida Oaks, which will be run on the turf Feb. 2, 2013, becomes the sixth Tampa Bay Downs stakes to enjoy graded status, joining the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-olds on March 9 and four other Grade III stakes.

The Florida Oaks will be one of three graded races contested Feb. 2, along with the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds and the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares on the turf.

Tampa Bay Downs Vice President and General Manager Peter Berube said TOBA’s decision is a reflection of management moving the mile-and-a-sixteenth race to the turf course after the 2010 running. Fillies trained by top conditioners H. Graham Motion (Dynamic Holiday, 2011) and Mark Casse (Dixie Strike, 2012) have won the past two Florida Oaks.

“Horsemen have been universal in their praise of our turf course, and it continues to attract many of the top Thoroughbreds in the country, including (Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner) Zagora last season (for the Endeavour and Grade III Hillsborough Stakes),” Berube said. “The addition of a grade for the Oaks will enable us to continue to recruit leading 3-year-old fillies to Tampa Bay Downs for the Florida Oaks.”

The AGSC also assigned listed status to the $75,000 Turf Dash for horses 3-and-upward, to be run Jan. 5, and the $75,000 Lightning City Stakes for fillies and mares, to be contested on the turf Jan. 26. Both races are five furlongs.

The Florida Oaks, first run in 1984, carried Grade III status from 1996-2003 and again from 2008-2010. Past winners include such prominent fillies as 2000 champion Secret Status, who went on to win the Grade I Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose Stakes, and 2003 winner Ebony Breeze, who won four graded stakes and retired with earnings in excess of $1-million.

Tampa Bay Downs begins its 87th season of Thoroughbred racing Saturday with its annual Lambholm South Cotillion Festival Day, featuring a full card of 2-year-old racing. Two $75,000 stakes are on tap, both at six furlongs: the Inaugural Stakes for colts and geldings and the Sandpiper Stakes for fillies.

Fans are encouraged to attend the Breakfast Buffet from 8-10 a.m. in the Picnic Pavilion Area under the big tent north of the grandstand, where they can watch workouts and interact with trainers and jockeys. The cost is $6.95, which includes free grandstand admission, a Tampa Bay Downs racing program and a copy of Peter Mallett’s “Betting Tampa Bay Downs” guide.
In addition to its live racing season, Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Christmas and Easter for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.