09/26/2016 5:23PM

Tampa Bay Downs adds one turf stakes for 2017, boosts statebred stakes


OLDSMAR, FL. – The rebirth of a turf stakes for 3-year-olds and higher purses for the Florida Cup stakes for statebreds are the most significant changes to the 2016-17 stakes schedule at Tampa Bay Downs, which opens its meet Nov. 26. The schedule features 24 stakes worth a track-record $2.975 million, up from $2.7 million for 23 stakes at the 2015-16 meet.

The $75,000 Columbia Stakes, for 3-year-olds at a mile on turf, will add a fifth stakes race to the biggest card of the meet March 11, when the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby is run. The Columbia Stakes most recently was run in 2009 as the Chris Thomas Turf Classic at 1 1/8 miles. Also on the March 11 card is the Grade 2, $200,000 Hillsborough Stakes, for older fillies and mares on turf; the Grade 3, $200,000 Florida Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies on turf; and the $100,000 Challenger Stakes, for older horses on the main track.

The Tampa Bay Derby, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds, offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to its top four finishers on a scale of 50-20-15-10. In a significant change for 2017, the local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby, the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, also will award Kentucky Derby qualifying points on a 10-4-2-1 basis. Last winter, Destin won both the Sam F. Davis Stakes and the Tampa Bay Derby before finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby and losing the Belmont Stakes by a nose to Creator.

The Sam F. Davis Stakes anchors the second-biggest day of the meet Feb. 11. Also on that card are the Grade 3, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes, for older horses on grass; the Grade 3, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes, a prep for the Hillsborough; and the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes, for 3-year-old fillies on the main track.

Last winter, Tepin, the 2015 Eclipse Award winner as champion turf female, won both the Endeavour and Hillsborough stakes to kick off a 2016 campaign in which she is perfect in six starts.

Florida Cup Day, which features six $100,000 stakes races for Florida-breds, has been moved to a Sunday, April 2, after previously being run on a Saturday. Those six races each got a $25,000 purse increase for 2017 through a partnership between the track, horsemen, and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association.

“The increase in stakes purses for the upcoming season reflects the ongoing interest in our racing program throughout the Thoroughbred industry,” Peter Berube, the track’s vice president and general manager, said in a statement. “While our graded stakes, especially the 3-year-old races, garner most of the attention, our stakes schedule offers tremendous value for horses in all categories.”

The stakes schedule begins Dec. 3 with the Inaugural and Sandpiper stakes, a pair of $100,000, six-furlong sprints for 2-year-olds, with the Sandpiper restricted to fillies.