Thoroughbred racing's top owners and trainers will have additional incentive to bring their outstanding 3-year-olds of 2014 to Florida's west coast with the creation of the “Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus.”
The bonus consists of a guaranteed $1-million payout from Tampa Bay Downs to the owner(s) of any horse winning the Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 1; the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 8; and the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 3.
Immediately after the Sam F. Davis Stakes, the triumphant jockey will select the name of a fan who could strike it rich in the “Lambholm South $100,000 Fan Bonus,” should the Davis winner capture the next two races and win the $1-million. The fan's name shall be drawn from a bin among entrants who have correctly picked the Davis winner the day of the race.
“Tampa Bay Downs is thrilled to offer a million-dollar bonus to the connections of any 3-year-old talented enough to sweep all three races,” said General Manager Peter Berube. “Nothing would make us happier than presenting $1-million to one of our owners and $100,000 to one of our loyal fans right after the Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May.”
The Sam F. Davis Stakes, which has produced at least one Kentucky Derby starter in nine of the last 10 years, is part of a lucrative Festival Preview Day card on Feb. 1 that includes the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Stakes for older horses on the turf and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
In case of a Sam F. Davis dead heat, both winning ownership groups will be eligible for the “Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus” and the names of two individuals will be drawn to become eligible for the “Lambholm South $100,000 Fan Bonus.”
Todd Pletcher, Carl Nafzger and Nick Zito headline a list of trainers who in recent years have used the Tampa Bay Derby to prepare their leading 3-year-olds for a shot at immortality in one of the world's most prestigious races.
The Pletcher-trained Super Saver won the 2010 Kentucky Derby for owner WinStar Farm after finishing third in the Tampa Bay Derby, while Nafzger's Street Sense won the 2007 Kentucky Derby for owner James Tafel after capturing the Tampa Bay Derby in record time.
The Tampa Bay Derby is the centerpiece of a massive Festival Day card on March 8 that includes a pair of Grade III turf stakes: the $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies and the $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares.
Additionally, the Tampa Bay Derby is part of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, awarding 50 points to the winner, 20 to the runner-up, 10 for third place and 5 for fourth place. Points go toward determining which 20 3-year-olds are eligible for the Kentucky Derby.
Had the “Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus” been in effect in 2006, WinStar Farm's Bluegrass Cat would have come close to taking home the prize. After winning the Sam F. Davis, he finished second in both the Tampa Bay Derby and the Kentucky Derby. In 2009, Musket Man, owned by Eric Fein and Vic Carlson, finished third in the Sam F. Davis, won the Tampa Bay Derby and was third in the Kentucky Derby.
Patrons can enter the “Lambholm South $100,000 Fan Bonus” drawing on Feb. 1 at Tampa Bay Downs by choosing the winner of the Sam F. Davis. Entry blanks will be distributed at the turnstiles, to be filled out and deposited in a bin corresponding to an individual's choice for the race. The winner will be drawn after the Sam F. Davis result is official, entitling the fan to claim $100,000 should their horse also win the Tampa Bay Derby and the Kentucky Derby.
In addition, the lucky individual will be treated to free clubhouse seating and lunch for a party of six for the Tampa Bay Derby and – should their choice win March 8 and remain in contention for the bonus – again on May 3 (Kentucky Derby Day).
All fans who select the Sam F. Davis winner on Feb. 1 will be mailed a Tampa Bay Downs prize package.
“We believe this is an ideal way to get more fans involved in Thoroughbred racing, as well as give them the sensation of what it is like to be an owner – at least for one race,” Berube said.
Horses that have won both the Sam F. Davis and the Tampa Bay Derby include Phantom Jet in 1987; Speedy Cure in 1991; Marco Bay in 1993; Thundering Storm in 1996; and Burning Roma in 2001. None of the five competed in the Kentucky Derby, but it is difficult to imagine any Sam F. Davis-Tampa Bay Derby winner passing it up with a cool million at stake.
“The Sam F. Davis and the Tampa Bay Derby both came into being in 1981, so it seems a natural fit to combine them for purposes of the bonus,” Berube said. “There have been several years when the Tampa Bay Derby winner had not run in the Davis, but we hope the bonus makes both races – as well as our $100,000 Pasco Stakes on Jan. 4 for 3-year-olds – part of a logical progression on the road to Louisville.”
In addition to unveiling plans for the “Tampa Bay Downs Million Dollar Derby Bonus,” Berube announced 33-percent purse increases for three 2013-14 stakes races to $100,000, thanks to additional revenue from the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association.
With the raises, 14 of the track's 25 scheduled stakes will offer purse money of $100,000 or more. Stakes purses for the meeting now total $2,770,000, an all-time high in the track's 88-year history.
The 29th renewal of the Inaugural Stakes for 2-year-olds and the 34th edition of the Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies – both on Saturday, Dec. 7 – and the 24th annual Super Stakes for horses 4-and-upward on Saturday, Feb. 22, have all been raised from their previous $75,000-guaranteed level.
The Inaugural and the Sandpiper are the centerpieces of Tampa Bay Downs' annual Lambholm South Cotillion Festival Day.
Previously, the Florida Oaks had been raised from $150,000 to $200,000 and both the Lightning City Stakes on Jan. 25 and the Turf Dash on March 1 had been increased from $75,000 to $100,000.
“It's always gratifying when we can bolster purses for our horsemen, whether it's for stakes events or overnight races,” Berube said. “With the ongoing support of our fans and the continuing improvement in the quality of racing, we have high hopes this trend will continue.”
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