‘Louisville Has The Race – Tampa Has The Party!’ And while 150,000 fans are expected to flood Churchill Downs for the most exciting two minutes in sports, visitors to Tampa Bay Downs will experience much of the Derby’s splendor close to home.
Derby weekend in Tampa kicks off Friday with a full card of live racing and simulcast action from the top tracks in the country. The gates open at 10 a.m. Tampa Bay Downs is also offering advance wagering Friday on the Kentucky Derby and the entire Saturday card at Churchill Downs.
Late Friday afternoon, the spotlight shines on Louisville for the $1-million Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies. The Grade I Oaks is one of six stakes races on the Churchill Downs Friday card.
Tampa Bay Downs will open at 10 a.m. again on Saturday. The track will conduct a full live program and offer world-class simulcasting in addition to the Kentucky Derby, which has a 6:24 p.m. post time. The Churchill Downs undercard features five stakes, including the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and the Grade I Humana Distaff.
Fans are encouraged to join the fun surrounding the Run for the Roses by partaking in the traditions that have helped to spread the Kentucky Derby around the world and made winning it the goal of business titans, sports franchise owners, royalty, oil sheikhs and countless operators of a one-horse stable.
Every Derby Day, female visitors to Tampa Bay Downs compete for the unofficial ‘Best Derby Hat’ award. Those without a hat are encouraged to visit the On Track Gift Shop on the first floor of the grandstand.
In addition to hand-crafted fascinators for $25, the Gift Shop inventory includes Derby shirts, caps and souvenir glasses.
Mint juleps will be on sale throughout Derby Day for $9. Each comes in an official Kentucky Derby souvenir glass with the names of all 137 winners – from Aristides in 1875 to Animal Kingdom in 2011.
The Kentucky Derby field will likely include at least two horses with Tampa Bay Downs connections: the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby winner, Prospective, and Trinniberg, who will be ridden by Tampa Bay Downs jockey Willie Martinez.
VILLA-GOMEZ RIDES THREE WINNERS; 11 IN SEVEN DAYS
Jockey Huber Villa-Gomez is warming up for the defense of his 2011 title at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa. Villa-Gomez, who tied Pablo Morales atop the Presque Isle standings in 2011 with 97 winners apiece, rode three winners on Sunday’s card, giving him 11 over the last seven days of racing.
The hot streak has propelled the 36-year-old Peruvian into sixth place by himself entering the final week of racing at Tampa Bay Downs with 42 victories from 275 mounts. Villa-Gomez, who began his career in 2000 at Calder, has ridden 1,450 winners in his career.
Villa-Gomez has been selected the Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month. He will receive his plaque during Saturday’s card.
The soft-spoken Villa-Gomez has won five meet titles in his career: two at Presque Isle, two at Thistledown in Ohio and one at Beulah Park in Ohio. Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer Jamie Ness says Villa-Gomez’s positive, enthusiastic attitude toward race-riding is probably as big an attribute as his hard-earned skills in the saddle.
“Back about 11 or 12 years ago, I had just started training at Canterbury (in Minnesota) and he knew no English,” Ness recalled. “We both were green and I didn’t have very good horses, but he helped me out. I was just happy to get someone on my horses.
“He has been my main rider at Presque Isle the last three years. He always comes to the barn with a smile on his face and never complains. He has always had good ability and horses run for him.
“Every time we give him a chance, he does good for us,” Ness said. “He is a class act and appreciates the opportunity he has to be a jockey.”
Villa-Gomez started Sunday’s three-bagger by riding the Ness-trained 7-year-old mare Pink Belle Girl to a neck victory in the first race, a five-and-a-half furlong claiming event. After finishing second in the third race on Ming Dynasty, Villa-Gomez brought 3-year-old gelding El Rayito from far off the pace to win the fourth race for trainer Manuel Criollo. It was a maiden claiming affair at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf.
In the seventh race, Villa-Gomez won aboard Saturday in May, a 5-year-old gelding, for trainer Michael Murray.
Villa-Gomez feels well equipped to deal with the ups and downs of racing thanks largely to the support of his two biggest fans: son Maximo, who is 8, and daughter Abigail, who turns 7 on Thursday. Although he is separated from their mother, Villa-Gomez has joint custody.
“They bring me happiness. It makes me a little more excited when they are with me,” he said. “They give me a reason to keep pushing myself and working hard. Sometimes when I’m not winning races and nothing is going good at the track, I come home and see them smiling and feel their hugs and it picks me up.”
SANTOS HAS BROKEN LEG
Jockey Ademar Santos was taken to a hospital with an apparent broken leg Sunday after his mount in the fifth race, Onmyway to Glory, clipped heels and threw him to the turf. Santos was reported to be in stable condition. The 3-year-old filly, owned by Yanez Brothers Stable and trained by Robert Boileau, returned to her barn unharmed.
Ubu, a gray 3-year-old filly owned by Big Lick Farm and trained by Reid Nagle, won the race and paid $10.60.