Over the past several weeks, countless visitors have asked about the flurry of construction activity behind the large blue tarpaulin on the first floor of the grandstand, almost directly across from the finish line.
Their curiosity will be rewarded when the 2013-14 Thoroughbred racing season at Tampa Bay Downs resumes on Wednesday, Dec. 4 with the unveiling of Riders Up!, a new and exciting place for horsemen, handicappers and first-time visitors to meet, talk horses and enjoy a cool libation.
The remodeling of the grandstand to include a pub-style gathering place is among several facility improvements overseen by Tom McLaughlin, Tampa Bay Downs’ Vice President of Facilities and Track Surfaces, as part of the track’s annual capital improvements program.
Riders Up! will feature a variety of craft beers through Tampa-based Pepin Distributing Company, as well as domestic brands and a full complement of liquor. Marble countertops, a candy-apple red wood finish and bartenders dressed in replica jockey silks will add to the appeal.
Riders Up! will be open each live racing day from 11 a.m. through the final race.
“We hope to create a buzz and get the word out that Tampa Bay Downs has a great new bar where people can watch horse racing and meet people,” said Andy York, the track’s new Food and Beverage Director. “I hope it will be a big hit and attract people who normally don’t come to the track.”
York – formerly the Director of Operations for Concessions at Raymond James Stadium and Amway Center in Orlando – is also excited about this week’s unveiling of the Metro Deli on the west side of the first floor of the grandstand. The deli’s façade resembles an old-time, big-city eatery, and the all-natural meat products, supplied by US Foods, cater to patrons with big appetites.
York said the Metro Deli concept derived from the NFL San Diego Chargers’ Metro Deli at Qualcomm Stadium. “We’ll have roast beef, ham, corned beef and fresh-carved turkey sandwiches on an onion roll with herb mayonnaise, in addition to the Cuban sandwiches, pizza and a rotisserie oven for chicken,” York said. “We’re trying to bring something different to that area, and we think it will become a focal point for fans just like Riders Up!”
The Metro Deli will be open throughout the year on live racing and simulcast days.
Other new food-service offerings include barbecue pork sandwiches and nachos at the concession area at the south end of the grandstand; and grilled chicken sandwiches, corn dogs, French fries and chicken quesadillas at the north end of the grandstand, adjacent to security.
Additionally, on the second floor of the clubhouse, the menu will include wraps, Panini sandwiches and a “Furlong Dog” foot-long featuring a choice of 10-to-12 condiments. Ice cream will be sold at both main grandstand concession stands and the concession stand at the south end of the clubhouse.
The Silks Poker Room on the third floor will continue to offer a full breakfast daily, as well as expanded menu options.
Racing Fans are also encouraged to check out the Westchase BBQ stand that will be open each Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Backyard Picnic Area north of the paddock. Westchase BBQ will also operate Sundays in February and March on Kids and Family Days and Family Fiesta Days.
Other capital improvements have been completed on the backside, including road improvements, the addition of wash racks and upgrades to stables and paddocks. Also new in the barn area this season is Papa Jim’s Kitchen, operated by long-time restaurant owner and former Thoroughbred trainer Jim Tsirigotis.
York is planning for the All-You-Can-Eat Breakfast Buffet from 8-10 a.m. the morning of Saturday, Dec. 7 in the Backyard Picnic Area. The cost is $6.95 and tickets are available at the General Office or on the day of the event.
The Breakfast Buffet, which kicks off Tampa Bay Downs’ annual Cotillion Festival Day Presented by Lambholm South, affords patrons the opportunity to meet jockeys and trainers and watch morning workouts. Author and handicapper Peter Mallett will distribute copies of his 2013-14 Tampa Bay Downs guide and present a seminar on betting the track from 10-11 a.m.
The track’s always-popular Sunday Brunch in the Skye Terrace atop the clubhouse will begin Dec. 29.
Having worked at Raymond James Stadium for 10 years, York is ready to adapt to the gastronomical needs and wants of the racetrack crowd. “I understand people don’t come to the racetrack to grab a cheeseburger – they come to watch the horses compete,” he said.
“What we hope to do is add to that experience by offering a great food and beverage aspect, and help to make it a fun time for people and give them another reason to come back.”