Tampa Bay Downs raises the stakes for upcoming thoroughbred season

Tampa Bay Downs raises the stakes for upcoming thoroughbred season

OLDSMAR — The foundation has been poured. Forty-nine days from now, Tampa Bay Downs will begin to see how the construction of its 86th thoroughbred season holds up.

Opening day for the 2011-12 campaign is Dec. 3, one of the Downs’ earliest in recent years. Several adjustments have been made to the stakes schedule, and money has been added to seven stakes, boosting the 25-race stakes program to $2,595,000. The 92-day meet concludes May 6.

The Downs’ opener coincides with the debut of racing at Gulfstream Park. The Hallandale Beach track traditionally began its meet in January, but it reached a deal this year with Calder in Miami Gardens for the December dates. The Downs will not have live racing Monday and Tuesday.

Headed by the Grade II $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, the Downs will have five graded stakes (the others are Grade III). Among those races, the $250,000 Sam F. Davis, $150,000 Endeavour and $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes received $25,000 boosts. Nongraded events with similar purse upgrades are the $150,000 Florida Oaks, $100,000 Gasparilla, $100,000 Pasco and $100,000 Suncoast.

A key stakes date change involves Festival Preview Day, featuring the Sam F. Davis, Endeavour and Florida Oaks. Those races are now Feb. 4, creating a five-week break between the Sam F. Davis and the Tampa Bay Derby on March 10. In the past six years, the two Kentucky Derby preps were four weeks apart. The Tampa Bay Derby highlights Festival Day and will be joined by the Hillsborough and Suncoast. The Tampa Bay Stakes (Feb. 25) and $50,000 Wayward Lass (March 17) have swapped spots. Cotillion Festival Day, a card for 2-year-olds led by the $75,000 Inaugural and $75,000 Sandpiper, will be two weeks earlier, Dec. 10.

Stakes racing starts Dec. 3 with the $75,000 Lightning City and wraps up April 7 with Florida Cup Day and six $75,000 events: Sophomore, Sophomore Turf, Sophomore Fillies, Sprint, Turf Classic and Turf Distaff. Nine stakes are slated for the turf course. The Downs’ barn area opens Nov. 3, with the first day of training Nov. 10.

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