The garland of red roses draped across the winner’s withers. Mint juleps. The Twin Spires atop the roofline at Churchill Downs. Derby hats. Derby pools. College students partying in the infield. The old Kentucky Home far away.

Since its first running in 1875, the Kentucky Derby has established enough tradition to blanket relatively short-lived spectaculars such as the Super Bowl, Masters and NBA Finals.

Many Thoroughbred fans have already begun planning for an afternoon of thrills on Saturday, May 5. For those who can’t make it to Louisville, Tampa Bay Downs is as good as it gets for experiencing the excitement of the 138th renewal of “the most exciting two minutes in sports.”

Louisville has the race. Tampa has the party. Racing fans, as well as newcomers eager to see what all the fuss is about and fun-lovers looking to enhance their Cinco de Mayo celebration, are invited to the only Thoroughbred track on the west coast of Florida for an afternoon of live racing capped by the 138th running of the Run for the Roses.

The excitement will carry over into Sunday, May 6, the final day of racing for the 2011-12 live Tampa Bay Downs season. Closing-day promotions include free admission, $2 draft beer, $1 sodas and $1 hot dogs.

On Kentucky Derby Day, the gates will open at 10 a.m. and post time for the first live race will be noon. In addition to a full slate of live racing, Tampa Bay Downs will simulcast the full card from Churchill Downs and numerous other Thoroughbred and greyhound tracks.

Tampa Bay Downs has been a proving ground for two of the past five Kentucky Derby winners. In 2007, Street Sense – trained by Carl Nafzger and ridden by Calvin Borel – used his record-setting Tampa Bay Derby victory as a springboard to greatness in Louisville.

Two years ago, Super Saver finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby before winning the Kentucky Derby under Borel. Todd Pletcher was the trainer.

Tampa Bay Downs backers may get the opportunity to pin their hopes on Grade II Tampa Bay Derby winner Prospective, who was sixth in Saturday’s Blue Grass Stakes, and third-place Tampa Bay Derby finisher Cozzetti, a fast-closing fourth in the Arkansas Derby.

Or they may be captivated by Hansen, the gray heartthrob who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Eclipse Award as Outstanding 2-Year-Old Male and was second Saturday in the Blue Grass, or trainer Bob Baffert’s Bodemeister, a runaway winner of Saturday’s Arkansas Derby.

No matter your choice, though, Tampa Bay Downs and its horses, jockeys and staff plan to make the afternoon of May 5 the next-best thing to being there.


A heart-pulsing, come-from-behind victory by Janice Creel’s 8-year-old mare The Real Future in Sunday’s 10th race, the Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week, was a testament to perseverance and the love between a couple and a horse.

Janice and husband Rick Creel, the trainer, have been married almost 35 years. They purchased the Florida-bred daughter of Real Quiet-Assert N Future, by Future Storm, for $4,200 as a yearling in Ocala.

Rick found her a challenge to break; Janice remembers her tossing him one day against the side of the barn. But their faith and determination never wavered. The Real Future broke her maiden at Calder in Miami as a 2-year-old in a 4 ½-furlong race in which she was eligible to be claimed for $32,000.

Over the years, The Real Future has been eligible to be claimed numerous times, including Sunday. She has also competed in stakes company and finished second in the 2008 Pleasant Temper Stakes at Kentucky Downs to My Baby Baby.

The Real Future also has been sidelined for long periods of time twice, first with a chipped knee and then with a pulled suspensory ligament. Both times, the Creels feared her racing future was past; they bred her twice, including last year to Get Away Farm stallion Imperialism, the third-place finisher in the 2004 Kentucky Derby.

When The Real Future reabsorbed her Imperialism foal, the Creels decided to return her to training. Her victory Sunday in the $16,000, one-mile turf claiming event was her second in seven starts at the meeting, her fifth lifetime at Tampa Bay Downs and the 11th in her career.

The Real Future rallied from last place in a field of 10 early to catch even-money favorite Butterdish by a neck under a textbook ride by veteran jockey Dean Butler. The Real Future, who was bred by Marilyn McMaster, paid $31 to win. The winner’s share of $12,200 raised her career earnings to $220,481.

“This mare built us the prettiest little farm you’ve ever seen (in Ocala),” said an emotional Janice Creel after the race, describing The Real Future’s impact on their lives.

And how are the mare and Rick getting along these days? “People say (The Real Future) is his other woman,” Janice said. “When he comes into the barn, she follows him with her eyes everywhere he goes.”