Florida Horse Racing Features Seven-Figures Of Purses This Weekend

Written By Dave Bontempo on March 10, 2023
Florida horse racing features seven-figures in purses

The Florida sunshine means more than sporting the mid-80-degree winter weather most Americans envy.

It means the Florida horse racing market will have a ton of attention on it. The eyes of the horse racing world will focus on two of the Sunshine State’s most prominent tracks.

Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach presents its usual weekend mix of large fields and potentially-lucrative payouts. However, Tampa Bay Downs gains the industry spotlight on Saturday.

It is home to the $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby. The race is a ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifier for the May 6 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. It has a post time of 5:15 p.m. ET.

Horse racing is one of the two sports Floridians can legally bet on, while the 2021 Florida gaming compact is wrapped up in the court system. Bettors can wager from home on the TVG app and catch the action all day via FanDuel TV.

And what a lineup it will be.

Tampa Bay Downs runs a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday program until closing day on May 6. Post time for Friday is 12:20 p.m. for nine races.

On Saturday, the track added supporting events to create its biggest blockbuster card of the year.

Purses total $1,245,000. That’s an impressive feat for this track, which takes a bow for the highest purse money awarded in the entire industry on Saturday.

Highlights of Saturday’s Tampa Bay Wagering Menu

  • The first post is 11:55 a.m. for a 12-race card.
  • A dynamite five-race package to end the card is one of the best ever presented here. It runs for more than two hours and is a continuous progression of top races.
  • The stream starts at 3:02 p.m. with Race 7, the $75,000 Columbia at 1 mile on the turf.
  • Next is the $100,000 Ultra Challenger Stakes at 1 1-16 miles. It starts on the main track at 3:33 p.m.
  • The $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes at 1 1-8 miles on the turf and gets under way at 4:04 p.m.
  • After that, it’s the $200,000 Florida Oaks at 1 1-6 miles on the turf at 4:45 p.m.

Lastly, it’s the big one. The 12-horse Tampa Bay Derby, contested at 1 1-16 miles, starts at 5:15 p.m.

Tampa Bay Derby Preview

Here’s a look at the big race, which will crown a Kentucky Derby entrant.

The Tampa Bay Derby is intriguing for several reasons. One involves recent stakes history at the oval. Another is centered around local horses moving up from sharp races at the lower level. The last revolves around shippers from Gulfstream Park.

These are the three major class angles surrounding the 1 1-16 mile event.

Two words: Sam Davis.

Yes, the Sam Davis Stakes was here in February. The race graduated seven competitors into this field. Three of which are nearly impossible to separate.

Groveland was the best of this group, finishing second to Litigate at 21-1.

A couple of lengths behind the top two finishers came the trio of Classic Car Wash, Classic Legacy and Zyedceaux. They finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively, after hitting the line together.

Zydeceaux was the most disappointed by the results. He paced the field into the final turn and ran well enough to hit the board at a bettors-friendly 48-1. But in his case, the course was two steps too long.

What happens in the rematch is always hard to predict. Some of these horses will improve, and some will regress. From a handicapping perspective, Groveland was a little better than the other three. From a betting perspective, including all four in exotics tickets is possible.

Three others in that field had little impact. Dreaming of Kona ran hard to the turn but finished a disinterested seventh.

Prairie Hawk was ninth in that race. Champion’s Dream was 11th.

The Gulfstream Invaders

Tapit Trice looked excellent in a $100,000 race at Gulfstream Park last month.

At 6-5, he took the lead around the turn and buried 4-5 favorite and stablemate Shesterkin. Both will be racing in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Bettors are likely to flock to Tapit Trice. Gulfstream horses often ship well to Tampa Bay.

Furthermore, he is guided by Todd Pletcher, who has a record five Tampa Bay Derby triumphs. He last won this race in 2017 with Tapwrit, who won the Belmont Stakes later that same year.

The Tampa Bay Derby may depend on whether Tapit Trice can stretch to the extra 1/16th of a mile. He is coming off impressive one-mile wins at Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park. He already has a 92 Beyer speed figure and looks like a horse on the rise.

West Coast Cowboy, meanwhile, ran a good third in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He was 50-1 and enjoyed a perfect stalking trip.

That was a nice race, but this is a step up. He may be on the lead early with Zydeceaux.

Local Form

Freedom Road has gone one mile before, finishing third in the Laurel Futurity last year. He comes off a six-furlong triumph in allowance optional claiming over the track.

Mikey Bananas has hit the board in three straight Tampa Bay races without winning. He runs hard all the time but comes up in class form allowance optional claiming.

Leading Jockeys and Trainers

Top Jockeys

It’s been the Sammy Camacho show at Tampa Bay. He recorded 83 wins at Tampa Bay Downs, which is by far the most of any jockey at the track. He also finished runner-up 49 times and has 47 third-place finishes.

Additionally, Camacho towers above the field with $1,481,339 worth of earnings. He has been in the money 55% of the time and is a strong rider. Some trainers have recruited him to ride at Gulfstream, where he comes up with some longshot winners.

Pablo Morales has 43 victories and has earned $837,518. His in-the-money percentage is 53%.

Antonio Gallardo has 32 winners, $777,609, and is in the money 54% of the time.

Bettors know that a wager placed on any of these jockeys results in a win, place or show more than half the time. This may also give them the confidence to key the horses ridden by these jockeys.

Top Trainers

  • Gerald Bennett has 35 wins, $687,195 earnings and is in the money 56% of the time.
  • Jorge Delgado follows with 24 victories and $412,275. He has been the closest thing to a cash register a trainer can get, finishing in the top three spots at a sizzling 72% clip.
  • Jon Arnett is third with 21 victories, $378,314 and 50% in-the-money percentage.

When the top trainers and top jockeys are combined on one horse, gamblers will be betting on it.

A Note About Takeout Percentages

Knowing which wagering type fits your budget is important. Takeout rates are pre-payout taxes the track applies on every bet made at the race. It will affect the profitability of certain wagers.

Tampa Bay has a bettor-friendly takeout percentage of 15% for the Pick 5’s, 17% for win, place and show, and 18% on the daily double, Pick 3, Pick 4 and Super High 5 wagers.

The 20.5% takeout on exactas is nothing special and the 25.9% on trifectas and other wagers is high compared to other tracks.

As a result, many bettors have shifted from the exotics to the Pick 5’s in recent years.

Gulfstream Park Preview

  • The track has a post time of 12:40 p.m. on Thursday-Sunday.
  • There are nine races on Thursday and Friday, 12 on Saturday and 10 on Sunday.
  • Saturday’s first post is 12:40 p.m. for a 12-race card.
  • The $150,000 Hurricane Bertie is the highest purse race of the day, a 6 1-2 furlong test, in the 8th.
  • The Captiva Island, race 11, is a five-furlong turf spring for $100,000.
  • The first race is again wide open and potentially lucrative, with 12 horses going 7 1-2 furlongs on turf.
  • It may follow the pattern we laid out here last week. The first race paid beautifully for Gulfstream bettors.
  • The gigantic field and the breeding ground of some horses trying turf and others coming to Gulfstream for the first time produced a melting pot of value.
  • Smokin Jay roared home from the back of the pack to win at 9-1.
  • Agent Peter Graves, 4-1, ran a game second.
  • Mamba On Three, 7-1, finished third to complete a modest $1 trifecta of 290.
  • But fourth-place Coppola made the day. He was 70-1, and this was the horse-racing version of slot-machine bells and whistles.
  • The $2 superfecta returned $20,082, or $10,041 for one dollar and $1,004 for the 10-center.

Rainbow Jackpots

Yes, there is a casino online game by that name. But this mega-payout was authored on the track at Gulfstream.

As the 20-cent Rainbow Pick 6 resets, bettors are still buzzing about the sizable mandatory payout of this pool last week. It yielded multiple payoffs of $40,357.56 Sunday.

The winning combination was 6-3-1-3-8-4.

Heading into Rainbow 6 wagering Sunday, there was a carryover jackpot pool of $1,369,601. Consequently, bettors wagered another $5,270,988 on the popular multi-race wagers that spanned races 6-11.

When there is no unique ticket, 70% of that day’s pool usually goes back to those bettors holding tickets with the most winners, while 30% is carried over to the jackpot pool.

The Rainbow 6 started anew on Wednesday. To win, bettors must correctly pick the winner of the last six races. Typically, there is no single winning ticket. Thus, the jackpot pool can grow rapidly.

After it went unsolved Wednesday, the pool was guaranteed at least $50,000 for Thursday. If it keeps going unsolved, the jackpot will be more than $1 million for the Florida Derby weekend, April 1-2.

If bettors keep missing the jackpot, the next mandatory payout will be April 2, one day after the $1 million Florida Derby.

Prolific wagering that Saturday will lead to a multi-million-dollar pot for distribution one day later.

Sizzling Saez

Luis Saez nabbed two victories on Wednesday. He won the fourth race aboard Moped Dennis (5.40) and the seventh race riding James Aloysius (4.80).

Photo by Shutterstock
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Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo is a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer. He writes NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City, iGaming Player and others. For PlayFL, he will focus on the world of Florida horse racing. 

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