OLDSMAR, FL. – From the moment Racing Secretary Allison De Luca and her crew began taking entries this morning for the second annual Summer Festival of Racing, the telephones rang like church bells at a royal wedding.
By late afternoon, De Luca – with help from Assistant Racing Secretary Stanley Shina, Clerk of Course Judy Clark and Association Official Jenn Moore – had put together a pair of impressive eight-race cards for the second annual event, to be held Monday and Tuesday beginning each day at 12:30 p.m.
The overwhelming response by horsemen to De Luca’s condition book resulted in the scheduling of six turf races on Monday and four on Tuesday, with all but one of the total of 16 races attracting full fields of eight horses and numerous also-eligibles.
Now, everyone is keeping their fingers crossed the weather cooperates to keep that schedule intact (last year, rain forced all but one race to be contested on the main dirt track). Regardless of Mother Nature’s whims, the Oldsmar oval will resonate Monday and Tuesday with the sound of pounding hooves, excited fans and the familiar race calls of track announcer Richard Grunder.
“We had a tremendous response and I think a lot of credit should go to (Vice President of Marketing & Publicity) Margo Flynn for getting it established last year and getting the word out,” De Luca said. “A lot more horsemen know about it and are eager to take part, and we’re looking forward to two excellent days of competition.”
Parking and grandstand admission are free, and Riders Up!, the popular pub-style grandstand gathering place, and the Metro Deli will be open both days. Fans also have the option to enjoy the action from the Clubhouse carrels or the Sports Gallery for $3.
Purses for the Summer Festival of Racing are up 25 percent from the 2013 inaugural event, and each starter will receive at least $500 in purse money. The riding colony will compete for a $5,000 Jockeys’ Challenge bonus, with the top jockey (based on a cumulative points system) earning the top prize of $2,500.
Augusto Marin – who rode for eight months in Saudi Arabia in 2001 – will defend last year’s title against such familiar Tampa Bay Downs jockeys as Quincy Hamilton, Ademar Santos, Olaf Hernandez, Jose E. Lopez, Federico Mata, Jorge Guerra and late-season Tampa Bay Downs/Hilton Garden Inn Jockey of the Month Carlos Lozada.
Monday’s card represents the official final day of the 2013-14 91-day meeting, with Tuesday counting as the official first day of the 2014-15 season – the 89th in track history (the season will then resume in late November or early December). The Summer Festival was originated to allow Tampa Bay Downs to be classified as a year-round, live-racing facility, thereby boosting its simulcast income and ability to raise purses for horsemen.
Unlike last year’s Summer Festival of Racing, both day’s races will be broadcast throughout Tampa Bay Downs’ simulcast network, increasing the size of the wagering pools and the opportunity for consistently larger pari-mutuel payouts.
While De Luca, Shina, Clark and Moore performed their administrative wizardry inside the Claims Office, members of Tom McLaughlin’s track maintenance staff were putting the finishing touches on the dirt and turf courses in anticipation of the event.
“This time of year, weather is always the great unknown, but our goal is to have both surfaces as close to midseason conditions as possible,” said McLaughlin, the track’s Vice President of Facilities and Track Surfaces.
McLaughlin said his staff began work on the turf course immediately after the May 4 card to ensure it would be up to the standards Tampa Bay horsemen have become accustomed to, despite the recent heat wave.
“Maintenance supervisor Scott Moore and our crew take a great deal of pride in their work, and we believe the horsemen and bettors will be pleased with the results. We’ve been playing it like it’s the opening day of the live meeting. We leveled the turf course, verticut it, aerated it, fertilized it and top-dressed it – the whole nine yards,” McLaughlin said.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.