11/24/2016 11:50AM

Meet opens with wide-open jockey race, new pick five

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OLDSMAR, Fla. – Overnight purses at the 2016-17 Tampa Bay Downs meet are projected to be unchanged from the prior meet at about $142,000 a day. Most of the jockeys who ride here, however, can expect a pay raise when the 90-day meet begins Saturday with an 11-race card.

That’s because Antonio Gallardo, who won the past three riding titles here, has moved his tack to New York, freeing up plenty of live mounts for the local jockey colony. His absence could help fuel big meets for five-time local riding champion Daniel Centeno; four-time local titlist Ronnie Allen Jr.; Fernando De La Cruz, who finished fourth in the standings last season and won the riding title this year at Indiana Grand; and Leandro Goncalves, who won the 2011-12 riding title here.

Former jockey Mike Moran, who was Gallardo’s agent before he moved to New York, now represents Albin Jimenez, who was second in the standings at Indiana Grand, and Edwin Gonzalez, currently second in the standings at Penn National. Moran said he’s expecting both of his jockeys to get their share of winners here.

“A lot of jockeys want to come here this season because they think it is going to be wide open,” Moran said. “So much depends on who gets off to a good start because winning puts you on the map, and those are the guys who are going to get live mounts. I’m going to work my hardest to see if my guys can be in the top four. I think they are very capable.”

The top 15 trainers from the 2015-16 season are all returning for this meet and likely will be chasing Gerald Bennett in the standings. Bennett, 72, earned his first outright local training title last season with 51 winners, ending Jamie Ness’s nine-year reign atop the standings. Bennett and Ness had tied for the title at the 2010-11 meet.

Bennett and his wife, Mary, have strength in numbers this season with 45 horses; half of them are juveniles.

“We have a lot of young horses, and we should have a pretty good meet,” Gerald Bennett said. “We’ve given the babies a lot of time, getting them where we want them, and hopefully now it will pay off.”

Tampa Bay Downs will race Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays until Sundays are added to the schedule Jan. 1. The meet technically opened with a single card in July and will end with a single card in late June, allowing the track to qualify as a year-round racing venue. But in practicality, the meet runs through May 7.

New to the wagering menu is a pick five on the first five races of the day that will take place only on cards with 10 or more races, according to track vice president and general manager Peter Berube. The late pick five will be held daily on the final five races. The pick fives have a low takeout of 15 percent. If no one hits the early pick five, the pool will be paid out to horseplayers with the most winners, but the pool in the late pick five will carry over if no one hits it.

The track will broadcast its simulcast signal in high definition for the first time this season and has installed 250 flat-screen, 19-inch TVs throughout the facility.

The two biggest days of the meet are March 11, when the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby tops a card with five stakes races, and Feb. 11, when four stakes will be held, including the key local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes. Both races award qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby.