Tampa Bay Downs
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Aerial view of Tampa Bay Downs from the east.
|Owned by||Stella F. Thayer|
Tampa Bay Downs is an American Thoroughbred horse racing facility located in Westchase in Hillsborough County in the U.S. state of Florida, just outside Tampa. It opened in 1926 under the name Tampa Downs. The first of many names, the racetrack was well known as Sunshine Park and Florida Downs and Turf Club.
The track races most Wednesdays, Fridays, and weekends from the end of November to the beginning of May.
The main track is a one-mile (1.6 km) dirt oval. The turf course is seven furlongs and includes a quarter-mile inner chute. Tampa Bay Downs, which has long been famous as the only Thoroughbred race track on the west coast of Florida, provides Tampa Bay area sports fans with live racing action, simulcasting, poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.
Tampa Bay Downs first opened its doors in 1926 under the name of the West Coast Jockey Club and has since amassed a long and colorful history. The founding operation was headed by Ohio investor Harvey Myers and Kentucky Colonel Matt J. Winn.
In 1943, the United States Army took over the track for use as a training facility.
In 1946 the track was renamed Sunshine Park and entered the modern era with the installation of an electric starting gate, photo finish and electric tote board.
During the 1950s, the racecourse was a popular attraction with many sportswriters who came to the Tampa Bay area to cover baseball spring training. Legendary names like Grantland Rice, Red Smith, Fred Russell and Arthur Daley became regular visitors, calling the track the “Santa Anita of the South.”
The year 1965 marked the third name change for the track when it became Florida Downs and Turf Club. The track was renamed Tampa Bay Downs in 1980.
In 1983 the track began running periodic Arabian horse races. The Arabian-bred program ended in 2003.
The present owners, Stella F. Thayer and her brother Howell Ferguson, purchased the track in its entirety at auction in 1986.
In 1998 Tampa Bay Downs added its 7/8-mile grass track, complete with a quarter-mile chute, which has become one of the most popular turf courses in North America. The course was completed in the spring of 1998 and the first race was contested on Kentucky Derby Day, May 2, 1998. This new avenue has provided more opportunities for horsemen and patrons alike. Other renovations include a state-of-the-art 22-acre (89,000 m2) golf range and short-game area called The Downs Golf Practice Facility, which includes a 270-yard (250 m) driving range, two in-house golf instructors as well as betting machines.
When Tampa Bay Downs concluded its 81st season on May 6, 2007, the track had established new records in handle, attendance and purses paid, including an all-time attendance mark of 11,014 on Kentucky Derby Day, May 5, 2007, which featured Tampa Bay Derby winner Street Sense becoming the first graduate of the Tampa Bay Derby to win the Kentucky Derby. A new single-day attendance record of 12,746 was established March 15, 2008 on Festival Day, featuring the Tampa Bay Derby. Tampa Bay Derby Day 2007 also marked the Oldsmar oval’s highest-ever handle, with $10,916,634 wagered on the Tampa Bay Downs signal on that day; a new mark of $10,949,948 was set March 12, 2011.
Street Sense and Any Given Saturday were two of the notable horses that competed over the Tampa Bay Downs surface in the 2006-2007 racing season, with Street Sense defeating his rival by a nose in the Tampa Bay Derby. They were joined by such notable horses as Cotton Blossom, Istan and Autobahn Girl. More recently, 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Eclipse Award turf champion Gio Ponti, Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned have raced at Tampa Bay Downs.
Since opening Dec. 13, 2003, The Silks Poker Room @ Tampa Bay Downs has emerged as a prime destination for card-game aficionados of all experience levels and bankroll sizes to test their skills. Open seven days a week from 10 a.m.- 4 a.m., The Silks Poker Room features every variation of Texas Hold’em, No-Limit Hold’em, Omaha and Stud Games, as well as multi-table tournaments.
Daily promotions are a staple inside The Silks Poker Room, which boasts numerous amenities sure to soothe. Patrons enjoy complimentary soft drinks, dining and cocktail service, tableside massages and plasma TV screens airing live sporting events and simulcast racing from across the country. With cash games of all limits and a view of the racetrack finish line from almost every table, The Silks Poker Room offers the best in live entertainment on the west coast of Florida.
Tampa Bay Downs has 25 stakes scheduled for the 2014-2015 meeting, including six that are graded. The Tampa Bay Derby, to be contested March 7 for a $350,000 purse, is a Grade II race for 3-year-olds. The $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes for 3-year-olds is a Grade III event on Jan. 31. Other Grade III races are scheduled on the turf: the $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, the $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes and the $150,000 Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares and the $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes for horses 4-years-old and upward.
Tampa Bay Downs had three Eclipse Award winners attend the 2007-2008 meeting: Rosemary Homeister, Jr., who won the Outstanding Apprentice award in 1992, was a regular fixture in the Jocks’ Room at the Oldsmar oval, finishing the season as the second-leading rider overall. Dreaming of Anna, who was the Champion Juvenile Filly of 2006, swept both the Grade III Endeavour Breeders’ Cup and the Grade III Hillsborough Stakes at the Oldsmar oval. War Pass, who was the 2007 Two-Year-Old Champion, competed in the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby.
Before the 2007-2008 race meet began, Tampa Bay Downs underwent several renovations, including the installation of the Grandstand elevator; the all-new Silks Poker Room, located on the third floor of the Grandstand; and the Party Suite, adjacent to the Silks Poker Room, was also updated with new flat-screen TVs installed. The Legends Bar, which includes a museum-quality exhibition of famed Thoroughbred Seabiscuit, became the newest feature of the Legends Bar on the second floor of the Grandstand. Horsemen enjoyed improvements to the Paddock area, with all-new stalls in the saddling barn ensuring the safety and comfort of horses and their connections. Other facility upgrades at the Oldsmar oval include a refurbished Racing Office on the backstretch, as well as a renovated track kitchen.
The 85th season saw more records, as Tampa Bay Downs climbed into the upper echelon of North American racetracks. Average daily wagering handle during the 2010-11, 90-day meeting was a record $4,572,074, an increase of 9.2 percent from the previous season. The average field size of 9.11 horses per race was among the highest in the country and was aided by an increase in the number of turf races, from 205 to 243. Average daily attendance was 3,195. The 31st running of the Tampa Bay Derby on March 12 attracted a record all-source wagering handle of $10,949,948, which included $876,063 wagered on track.
Tampa Bay Downs will seek to build on the momentum established the past three seasons while striving to benefit fans, horsemen and the environment. Prior to the 2011-2012 meeting, the track installed Trakus, an electronic tracking system which displays the exact position and location of each horse on television monitors during a race. Tampa Bay Downs also is in the early stages of a green initiative that track management hopes will eventually result in a net-zero impact on the environment. Other recent improvements include a CREE LED lighting system in the clubhouse and grandstand and the installation of a Gaco Sil S-20 Cool Roof coating system.
The reputation of Tampa Bay Downs as a proving ground for champions has grown by leaps and bounds since Thayer assumed control. In 2007, Hall of Fame trainer Carl Nafzger brought his 3-year-old Street Sense to Oldsmar for the Tampa Bay Derby, and the colt's victory was a springboard to his win in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Another Hall of Fame trainer, William Mott, selected Tampa Bay Downs for the first 2011 starts for his 3-year-old filly Royal Delta and 4-year-old colt Drosselmeyer. Royal Delta went on to twice win the Breeders' Cup Distaff and Drosselmeyer won the Breeders' Cup Classic. The track's annual showcase is Festival Day. The centerpiece is the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-olds at a mile-and-a-sixteenth. Also on the card are the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf and the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf.
Stakes races at Tampa Bay Downs
Ungraded The track also runs numerous non-graded stakes and the purses have set records in the past several years. The Grade II Tampa Bay Derby is now an official prep race for the Kentucky Derby.