Tampa Bay Downs prides itself as being “the friendliest little racetrack in North America” and is one the key venues of the Florida racing scene.
It is located in Hillsborough County, on the outskirts of Tampa, and hosts regular race-days for thoroughbred horses in the region. There is also a golf practice facility located at the track.
The track has been operating since 1926 and is currently co-owned by Stella F Thayer, who is also president of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. They have owned the venue since 1986.
With a very agreeable climate, Tampa Bay is able to host regular race-days throughout the winter months. Typically, Tampa Bay hosts midweek meets between November and mid-May, alongside the more popular Saturday afternoon race-days. There are 91 race-days in total.
Tampa Bay is one of five racetracks in the Florida area with Gulfstream Park and Gulfstream Park West regarded as slightly more high-profile. However, Tampa Bay Downs is the only track located on the West Coast of Florida and therefore has a significant catchment area for visitors. The all-time record attendance was recorded in 2007 with 11,014 visitors filing through the gates on Kentucky Derby Day.
The track doesn’t currently stage any Grade I events, but there are a high number of stakes contests taking place throughout the year, as well as a selection of Grade II and Grade III events.
Festival Day is far and away the most popular event on the calendar, and the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby is one of a number of races in which competitors can earn points towards the Kentucky Derby.
There is a one-mile dirt oval located at Tampa Bay Downs, and it sits alongside a seven-furlong turf track. The turf track also features a quarter-mile inner chute.
Tampa Bay Track History
Tampa Bay has a rich history of thoroughbred racing in the region and has been hosting events since 1926. The opening of the venue was originally funded by an Ohio-based investor.
The track was originally known as Tampa Downs, and it has gone through a number of different name changes throughout its history. In 1943, it was renamed Sunshine Park, and this coincided with the installation of an electric starting gate and tote board. This was part of a modernization project at the track.
During the 1950s, it was commonly referred to as the “Santa Anita of the North” by reporters who visited the track.
Another name change followed with the track changing its moniker to Florida Downs in 1956, before finally settling on Tampa Bay Downs in 1980.
Although it is famed for hosting thoroughbred racing, Tampa Bay Downs also hosted Arabian contests between 1983 and 2003.
The turf course wasn’t added until 1998, but it soon became a very popular addition with horsemen in the region. Many handlers described it as one of the best turf courses in North America. It helped attract trainers and jockeys from other states.
In the same year, the golfing facilities were also added, while betting machines became a regular sight at the track.
2007 was a very profitable year for the track, with record attendances being recorded at the venue. Street Sense became the first thoroughbred horse to graduate from the Tampa Bay Derby and be victorious in the Kentucky Derby.
Other notable competitors to visit the track include Always Dreaming, Gio Ponti and Tapwrit.
Several renovations took place in 2008, with the new poker room and party suite opening for the first time. There were also significant improvements made to the paddock area and stables ahead of the racing getting back underway.
More turf races were also added to the schedule around this time, and this resulted in a noticeable increase in field sizes.
Tampa Bay Downs Known Track Bias
Tampa Bay Downs is one of the few tracks in the US that doesn’t have any particular bias. Bigger fields are commonplace in West Florida, and that can often result in a slightly fairer outcome across the board.
Big fields can often hinder those who are drawn in outside posts, especially in two-turn races. It does allow sufficient time for them to pass their rivals, but space can often be at a premium. A horse would need plenty of speed to clear the field from posts 11 or 12, for example.
Those with a late-rallying style can often benefit from this, particularly those who find themselves in a field of front-runners.
There is no obvious bias in sprint events based on the statistics from the 2018-19 meet, although wire-to-wire winners on the turf tend to perform marginally better than those who opt to save ground.
Winning Post Positions
The statistics from the most recent meet at Tampa Bay Downs suggest that there is a decent mix of winning post positions at the track.
In sprint races held on the oval dirt track, around 14% of winners were drawn closest to the rail, whilst 16% of winners were drawn in post seven. Post eleven also proved relatively profitable for handicappers with 13% of winners coming from that stall, despite only 62 races attracting fields big enough to fill this post.
Races over the longer distances tended to favor the inside post, with 15% of winners succeeding from stall one. Although fields were slightly smaller, just 9% of winners came from stall eight. It is evidently more profitable to be drawn on the inside for route races.
Finally, inside runners were also at a significant advantage on the turf course. Although the numbers aren’t overwhelming, 16% of winners were drawn closest to the rail, with stall five next best at just 13%. Stall six proved to be the poorest possible draw with just 9% of winners coming from this position.
Top Trainers at Tampa Bay Downs
The track hosts a number of top races, and it attracts a decent caliber of horsemen. There are a number of trainers in Florida who regularly attend race-days at Tampa Bay Downs, and many of them have enjoyed unprecedented success here.
There a number of names to keep an eye at future meets.
Stats (2018-19 winter meet)
Anthony Granitz (22% Strike Rate)
Michael Stidham (24% Strike Rate)
Arnaud Delacour (24% Strike Rate)
Kathleen O’Connell (24% Strike Rate)
Darien Rodriguez (25% Strike Rate)
Gerald Bennett (26% Strike Rate)
Chad Brown (36% Strike Rate)
Top Jockeys at Tampa Bay Downs
A horse’s performance and finishing position can be significantly affected by the quality of jockey on board, and some riders will be able to make the difference between winning and losing a race.
Regular jockeys around this track will be well aware of the track bias (albeit less so at Tampa Bay), and they’ll know how to adapt to the ever-changing conditions, so they can play a crucial part in deciding the outcome.
There are a number of talented jockeys who regularly compete in Florida:
Stats (2018-19 winter meet)
Feargal Lynch (16% Strike Rate)
Pablo Morales (20% Strike Rate)
Daniel Centeno (22% Strike Rate)
Antonio Gallardo (22% Strike Rate)
Samy Camacho (25% Strike Rate)
Tampa Bay Racing Calendar and Key Races
Tampa Bay hosts regular race-days throughout the winter months, with the opening weekend typically taking place at the end of November.
They host events on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday throughout the winter, with the final race-day taking place at the beginning of May.
They also hold a 2-day festival racing at the end of June. This is a relatively new addition to the calendar, but it has proven to be extremely popular.
The quality of racing has always been relatively high at the track, although there has been a noticeable improvement since 2010.
A number of non-graded stakes races take place throughout the year, although the track tends to receive attention on a worldwide scale for its range Grade II and Grade III events.
South Tampa Bay Derby (Official Prep Race for the Kentucky Derby)
Sam F Davis Stakes
Tampa Bay Stakes
Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes
Lightning City Stakes
Wayward Lass Stakes
Tampa Bay Address
11225 Race Track Road,
Tampa, Florida, 33626