The drumbeat of thundering hooves. The vibrant hues of dappled horseflesh and jockey silks. Admiring cheers from Thoroughbred lovers and bettors.
All make their triumphant return to Florida’s west coast when the 2013-14 horse racing meeting at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday.
A full card begins at 12:25 p.m., continuing the track’s 88th season that began July 1 during the inaugural two-day Summer Festival of Racing. Wednesday also marks the debut of the contemporary Riders Up! pub on the first floor of the grandstand, across from the finish line.
Fans attending Wednesday’s performance will receive a pass good for free grandstand admission through the end of December. Tampa Bay Downs will conduct racing on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays during the month (with the exception of Dec. 25, when the track is closed); as well as Sunday, Dec. 22, Thursday, Dec. 26 and Sunday, Dec. 29.
Most of the top trainers and jockeys from last season have returned, their spirits heightened by a 15-percent purse increase from additional simulcast revenue thanks to the track’s new classification as a year-round, live-racing facility. Trainer Jamie Ness and jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., who have combined for 11 Tampa Bay Downs season titles, headline the returnees.
The roster of new faces – which includes trainers Eion Harty; Tim Ice; Darrin Miller; Dane Kobiskie; and William Sienkewicz, and jockeys Jose Ferrer; Harry Vega; Shannon Uske; and Quincy Hamilton – ensures this will be the most competitive meeting in recent memory.
“Although our official season-opening performance was July 1, Wednesday’s card should have all the atmosphere and excitement of a traditional Opening Day,” said Peter Berube, the track’s Vice President and General Manager.
“We are eager to welcome back all the fans who have contributed to our success, as well as introduce a new group of patrons to the magic of horse racing. The Riders Up! pub is one of several changes we feel will be well-received by our patrons, and we plan to keep striving to make a day at the races one of the best sporting experiences available in the Tampa Bay area,” Berube added.
Wednesday and Friday’s cards, while fulfilling in their own right, serve as appetizers for the Saturday, Dec. 7 program. The annual Lambholm South Cotillion Festival Day card features a full slate of 2-year-old racing, as well as the track’s annual all-you-can-eat “Breakfast at the Downs” from 8-10 a.m. in the Backyard Picnic Area.
Lambholm South Cotillion Festival Day includes a pair of six-furlong stakes races each worth a guaranteed $100,000 – the 29th annual Inaugural Stakes for colts and geldings and the 34th renewal of the Sandpiper Stakes for fillies. The two races have drawn a total of 43 nominations from the barns of such top trainers as Todd Pletcher, Edward Plesa, Jr., Christophe Clement, Wayne Catalano and Kathleen O’Connell, along with Dale Bennett and his father, Gerald Bennett.
Among the top prospects for the Inaugural is Savoy Stable, LLC’s colt Cool Cowboy, trained by Dale Bennett. In his previous start, an allowance/$75,000 optional claiming race at Hawthorne in Illinois, Cool Cowboy sped six furlongs in 1:08.78 while romping to a wire-to-wire, three-length victory.
Pletcher – the trainer of 2013 Tampa Bay Derby winner Verrazano – has nominated Enquete to the Sandpiper for owners Wertheimer and Frere. The daughter of Indian Charlie is 2-for-2 in her short career, boasting victories at Saratoga and Gulfstream Park.
Tickets for Saturday’s “Breakfast at the Downs” – which include free grandstand admission and a Tampa Bay Downs program, plus a copy of “Betting Tampa Bay Downs 2013-2014: An Up-To-Date Guide For Bettors Handicapping The Oldsmar Oval,” by Peter Mallett – are $6.95 and available at the General Office or the backyard tent the day of the event.
In addition to enjoying a full breakfast, fans will have an opportunity to observe morning workouts and meet trainers and jockeys. Author Mallett will provide a handicapping seminar from 10-11 a.m.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Christmas and Easter for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.