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Aerial view of Tampa Bay Downs from the east.
|Owned by||Stella F. Thayer|
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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.
The track races from December until May. The 2011-2012 Thoroughbred racing season ran from Dec. 3, 2011-May 6, 2012.
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 Bay area sports fans with live racing action from December through May.
Tampa Bay Downs first opened its doors in 1926 under the name of Tampa Downs and has since amassed a long and colorful history. The founding operation was headed by Ohio investor Harvey Mayers 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 opened as Florida Downs. The track returned to its original name of Tampa Downs in 1980.
In 1983 the track began running periodic Arabian horse races. The Arabian-bred program ended in 2003.
The present owner, Stella F. Thayer, assumed the reins in 1986 and the track became known as Tampa Bay Downs.
In 1998 Tampa Bay Downs added its 7/8-mile grass track, complete with a ¼ 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 the horsemen and patrons alike. Other renovations include a state-of-the-art 22-acre (89,000 m2) golf range called the Downs Golf Practice Facility, which includes a 270-yard (250 m) driving range, two in-house golf instructors as well as a wagering facility.
When Tampa Bay Downs concluded its 81st season on May 6, 2007, the track 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. Tampa Bay Derby day also marked the Oldsmar oval’s highest-ever handle, with $10,916,634 wagered on the Tampa Bay Downs signal on that day. Street Sense and Any Given Saturday were two of the notable horses who competed over the Tampa Bay Downs surface in the 2006-2007 racing season; they were joined by such notable horses as Cotton Blossom, Istan and Autobahn Girl.
Since opening in 2004, 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. 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 2011-2012 meeting, including five that are graded. The Tampa Bay Derby, to be contested March 10 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 Feb. 4. Other Grade III races are scheduled on the turf: the Endeavour Stakes for older fillies and mares on Feb. 4, the Tampa Bay Stakes for 4-year-olds and upward on Feb. 25 and the Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares on March 10.
Tampa Bay Downs’ 82nd season was highlighted by records set in both attendance and out-of-state wagering handle. On Festival Day, March 15, 2008, a record 12,746 fans arrived at the Oldsmar oval to witness Big Truck capture the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby. 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 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 refurnished 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 is 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.
Numerous changes are in store for the 2011-12 meeting that will benefit fans, horsemen and the environment. The most noticeable will be the introduction of 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 initial stages of a green initiative that track management hopes will eventually result in a net-zero impact on the environment. Improvements in place for the meeting 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 grounds 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 $350,000, Grade II Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-olds at a mile-and-a-sixteenth. Also on the card are the $150,000, Grade III Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile-and-an-eighth on the turf and the newly sponsored, $100,000 Stonewall Farm Ocala Suncoast Stakes, for 3-year-old fillies at one mile and 40 yards.