The 86th season of racing at the picturesque racetrack and entertainment facility features 25 stakes offering an approximate $2.6 million in purses. The 92-day meeting begins Dec. 3 and runs through May 6, the day after the 2012 Kentucky Derby.
Top thoroughbred sophomores will attempt to use the Tampa Bay Derby as a springboard to success at Churchill Downs in Louisville, following in the footsteps of 2007 Tampa Bay Derby winner Street Sense from the barn of Carl Nafzger and 2010 Tampa Bay Derby third-place finisher Super Saver, trained by Todd Pletcher.
Locals longshots dominated the 2011 Tampa Bay Derby, with the Kathleen O’Connell-trained Watch Me Go winning at odds of 43-1 from Crimson Knight, an 86-1 shot trained by Gerald Bennett.
The lucrative March 10 Festival Day of racing includes the $150,000, Grade III Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile and an eighth on the turf and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and 40 yards.
Including the Suncoast Stakes, seven stakes have been increased by $25,000 from last season.
The Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds, one of three stakes on the Feb. 4 racing card, has been increased to $250,000 while retaining its Grade III status. The Davis has often been used by local trainers and outside interests as a prep for the Tampa Bay Derby.
Also on the Feb. 4 card are a pair of $150,000 turf races at a mile and a sixteenth: the Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies and the Grade III Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares.
This is the second year the Florida Oaks will be contested on the turf. Last year’s winner, Dynamic Holiday, earned her Oaks score as one of three consecutive stakes victories (including the Grade III Herecomesthebride Stakes at Gulfstream) for owner Augustin Stable and trainer Graham Motion, the conditioner of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.
The fourth-place Florida Oaks finisher, Her Smile, won the Grade I Prioress at Belmont on July 4 and also finished second in the Comely Stakes at Aqueduct.
Another graded stakes on the 2011-12 calendar is the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes for older horses at a mile and a sixteenth on Feb. 25. The $150,000 purse represents a $25,000 jump from last season.
Racing fans will also look forward to the 10th annual Florida Cup Day on April 7. Geared toward Florida-bred horses, the nonstop afternoon of excitement features six stakes worth $75,000 each.
The Tampa Bay Downs stakes schedule begins on Opening Day, Dec. 3, with the $75,000-guaranteed Lightning City Stakes at five furlongs on the turf for fillies and mares 3-and-upward. The following Saturday, Dec. 10, Cotillion Day features the six-furlong Inaugural for 2-year-olds and the six-furlong Sandpiper for 2-year-old fillies, both offering $75,000.
Stall applications for the 2011-12 racing season are due Friday, Sept. 30.
The Tampa Bay Downs barn area opens at 8 a.m. on Nov. 3 and the first day of training is Nov. 10.