Travelling to Tampa

At racetracks as in life, first impressions count for a lot. Our first experience at a track will, fairly or not, determine whether we return; just like visiting an open house or going on a first date, our gut tells us whether we want a little more, or whether we’d like to just move on, thank you very much. And when I left Tampa Bay Downs two years ago, my gut told me, in no uncertain terms, to come back  as soon as I could.

If Gulfstream Park is about style and cultivating the visitor, Tampa is about comfort and familiarity. The bunting that drapes the grandstand is redolent of a small town on the day of a parade, and indeed, Tampa feels a little like a picnic on a holiday weekend—even in the middle of the week.

A few days before Easter, I saw racetrack regulars, eyes intent on the simulcast; I saw teenagers hanging out; I saw young families standing near the paddock. The weather was gorgeous, the mood festive. Tampa Bay Downs reminds me a little bit of Monmouth: clean and comfortable, but firmly, maybe even proudly of another era. You don’t get Trackus at TBD, but you get these guys, which have a personality all their own.


A beer is an essential part of a visit to the racetrack (unless it’s Keeneland, and then it’s bourbon), and like everything else at Tampa, the beer comes on a manageable scale. Used to the steroid-inflated big beer with a price to match (recently at Madison Square Garden, a double bourbon and a beer came to a whopping $27), I was delighted by the 12 oz of domestic beer that I got for…$1.25. Until 3:00. Deal. Add that to the .50 trifecta, and you’ve got a customer for life.

I have no particular comment to make about this guy, but how could I let these silks pass uncaptured? Thank you, Fox Point Farm. Note: from a distance, Mr. Fox, that flower in your mouth looks like dripping blood.

I didn’t win any money, but I didn’t try too hard, either; I hunch bet—and lost—my way through the card, and the closest I came to cashing was the $153.40 exacta that I talked myself out of betting.

I spent a delightful morning on the Tampa backstretch with Tabby Lane, the latest acquisition of Grevelis Racing Stable–she’s won and run second in her two starts with her new owners—and with jockey Dean Butler, Tabby Lane’s jockey and a fellow Saratogian. They both deserve posts of their own, and they’ll get them, soon.

One day every two years at Tampa Bay Downs is not even close to enough; I am envious of those who get to while away their winter at this wonderful track on Florida’s west coast. So now I’m thinking: How many years until retirement?

12 thoughts on “Travelling to Tampa

  1. So, with slots on the fast track here in Mass., and with it, a return of the MassCap, we can expect to see you again?

  2. Great blog. I just spent Feb and Mar at TBD, for the 4th consecutive year.
    Every live day for 2 months.I can’t get enough of TBD, free admission weekdays,
    free passes for weekends, free parking, reasonably priced refreshments, $2.00
    box seats, full fields, competitive racing, friendly employees, World class grass course, sunshine.I’ll be back…..

  3. ljk…. turf course was a fine addition, but management has a made a lot of right moves since then.

    Tampa Bay Downs has become a major winter player with their lowering of the takeout rates which attracts a wider national simulcast audience.

    The fact that Gulfstream Park’s has been unable to execute a proper renovation, has sent many a wintering horse player packing to Oldsmar, where customer service is far better.

    The lowering of the takeout rates has steadily led to higher handle figures which have fueled higher purses and much better quality of racing than some ten years ago. And I believe the racing at the track in Oldsmar is only going to get better.

    And speaking of defections…
    it looks a like a Blogger defected to WordPress. Good luck in your new home. 😀

  4. Thanks for the comments, folks. Rich, I definitely hope to make it back this summer–not sure when, but I’d love to be come to Suffolk on a regular day of racing.

    TKS: Thanks–not finding WordPress as easy as Blogger, but I’m learning a lot!

    Buzz & LJK: Love TBD. Very happy that I got to spend another day there, and sorry that it’ll be a year before I get back.

    • I do consider bourbon my winter drink…but can’t be at a Kentucky track without partaking–moderation in all things…

  5. Teresa,
    Great reporting on Tampa. Their decision to install the turf course was a brilliant one. At the time they made that risky decision, I thought that Finger Lakes might follow as they shared a lot of horsemen. As we know, that did not happen. Tampa deserves a lot of credit for improving the quality of racing while they reduced their takeout and improved their return to their customers. Tampa deserves the continuing support of the horsemen (and wome) and the customers as well. I very much appreciate your coverage of tracks around the country. Hope to see you opening day at Belmont Park. Regards.

    • Thanks, Charlie. Tampa is a great track and deserves all the recognition it can get. I’m taking Monday off to head to Keeneland this weekend, so I won’t make Belmont opening day (there are only so many school days I can miss to go to the racetrack), but if you’re there Derby day, I’ll see you then, and before, to bid farewell to the Big A.

  6. Teresa,

    I sent this post to a retired friend of mine, who, up until this year, always “wintered” close to Tampa Bay Downs. He spent many a day in winters past enveloped by your description. Family obligations kept him North this year. He responded that this post brought a tear to his eye. Kudos to you. I will make it there someday myself. Maybe I’ll wear that vintage Tampa Bay Downs t shirt that my father bought me to the Saratoga this year…

    • Thanks so much for sharing that Rich, and for passing the post on to him. I hope that he gets back there next year. And that you get there, too.

  7. Tampa – the racetrack where it’s perfectly okay to bring a box of fried chicken from Publix to eat at a picnic table with your family. I love it there! And it’s not just the cheap beer – their chicken fingers and french fries are outstanding!

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