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?