Fans, horsemen and the environment all stand to prosper when Tampa Bay Downs kicks off its 86th season of live Thoroughbred racing Dec. 3, the earliest opening date in track history.
“Once again, we look forward to meeting the challenges of enhancing our live racing product and providing our fans and horsemen the most enjoyable experience possible,” said Vice President and General Manager Peter Berube. “As the economy continues to rebound, we believe we are in position to continue our growth as a premier winter racing destination and multifaceted entertainment complex.”
While trainers and their horses stream onto the backside from tracks across the country for the 92-day meeting, workers are putting the finishing touches on a $1.5-million capital improvements project that will keep Tampa Bay Downs at the forefront of the racing and sports entertainment industries.
Among numerous upgrades, the most noticeable to fans and horsemen will be the introduction of Trakus, the electronic tracking system which displays the exact position and location of each horse on television monitors during the entire race.
Already in place at such major tracks as Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Woodbine in Toronto, the technology system gives serious handicappers an added edge in evaluating horses’ running styles and progress.
“We believe Trakus will be a welcome addition for our regular Tampa Bay Downs customers, occasional visitors and our vast simulcast audience,” Berube said.
Fans will also welcome the addition of 55 energy-efficient, flat-screen televisions to the 400-plus already in place throughout the grandstand and clubhouse. And getting to Tampa Bay Downs is easier than ever, with road access at an all-time high from each direction. The parking area has also been enlarged.
On the structural front, Tampa Bay Downs is in the initial stages of a “green initiative” that may one day result in the facility having a “net-zero impact” on the environment. The improvements in place for the upcoming meeting include a CREE LED lighting system throughout the clubhouse and grandstand and the installation of a Gaco Sil S-20 “Cool Roof” coating system.
More than 1,000 new LED fixtures have been installed inside the plant. LED fixtures can operate 16 hours a day for nine years with no maintenance.
The “Cool Roof” system, meanwhile, provides a weather-tight seal that prevents degradation caused by ultraviolet light, water and other weathering hazards. A Cool roofing system is in use at Disney World and has been used to treat military structures in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has been proven to lower indoor temperatures by 20 degrees.
“Tampa Bay Downs management and our employees are well aware of the importance of wise energy use and practices, and this is only ‘Phase One’ of our environment-friendly initiative,” Berube said. “Our objectives are to use less energy and substantially reduce our carbon footprint.”
In the barn area, storage sheds have been replaced as the track continues its annual program of barn improvements. Track superintendent Tom McLaughlin and his crew have worked diligently during the summer and early fall to ensure a bright, clean environment for the horses and their handlers.
On the wagering side, bettors are sure to embrace the new 50-cent Pick-5 wager, which features an attractive 15-percent takeout rate. The 50-cent Pick-5, which requires bettors to select five consecutive race winners, replaces the Pick-6 and will be offered on the final five races of each card.
Takeout on win, place and show wagers have been lowered to 17 percent. Tampa Bay Downs’ takeout structure is among the most bettor-friendly in the country, and when combined with full fields of runners, makes the track’s simulcast signal hugely popular across the United States Throughout the winter and early spring months.
Tampa Bay Downs will conduct its live thoroughbred meeting through May 6. Post time each day is 12:25 p.m. In addition to world-class horse racing and pari-mutuel simulcasting, Tampa Bay Downs offers poker and other card games and tournaments, along with fine dining, in The Silks Poker Room, open seven days a week from 10 a.m.-4 a.m.
Directly south of the racetrack is The Downs Golf Practice Facility, featuring 22 acres with a full range, chipping, putting and sand play areas. Pro shop hours are from 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.