09/18/2003 11:00PM

Track raises purses for 13 of 24 stakes

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Tampa Bay Downs, buoyed by the success last season of both its marquee Festival Day and the inaugural Florida Cup Day, has released a 2003-04 stakes schedule expected to exceed $2 million in total purses - a record-setting amount for the meet. Tampa Bay Downs will open Dec. 13 and present 93 programs through May 2, 2004.

Thirteen of Tampa's 24 stakes will have purses increased from a year ago, with the largest boost going to the Sam F. Davis Stakes, which has been raised from $50,000 to $100,000. The Sam Davis serves as the traditional prep for the meet's cornerstone event, the Grade 3, $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby.

The Tampa Bay Derby will again highlight Festival Day, to be held March 14. Last year, trainer Christophe Clement shipped in Region of Merit to win the Tampa Bay Derby, while Bill Mott saddled Ebony Breeze to capture the Grade 3 Florida Oaks.

The inaugural Florida Cup Day, a series of six races for Florida-breds preferred, offering purses worth $450,000, received rave reviews from fans and horsemen alike. The program is the result of a partnership between the track, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, and the Florida Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association, with each group contributing $150,000 to fund the event. The 2004 Florida Cup will be held on April 4.