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Thoroughbred owner Jud Van Worp expressed the views of horsemen from around the country who have begun shipping their horses to Oldsmar for the 88th season of racing at Tampa Bay Downs.
“This is the place to be in the winter,” said Van Worp as he watched horses work on the first official day of training. “It’s a great track to get your young horses going. And even though we are all competing against each other, there is a lot of camaraderie out here. You won’t find that in the IBM world.”
Veteran race goers recall Van Worp as the trainer of Florida-bred gelding Not Surprising, who used victories in the 1995 Pelican Stakes and Tampa Bay Budweiser Breeders’ Cup Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs as a springboard to an Eclipse Award-winning campaign as North America’s top sprinter. Van Worp reports that the 23-year-old Not Surprising resides comfortably at friend Terry Davie’s farm in Odessa.
While Van Worp has scaled back his involvement in racing to ownership of a couple of horses, the 2013-14 meeting – which officially began July 1 and resumes Dec. 4 – has attracted quality Thoroughbreds from virtually all corners of the nation.
Thoroughbreds from the barns of such leading conditioners as Tom Proctor, Gerald Bennett, Joan Scott and Greg Griffith were on the track this morning.
Bennett, whose son Dale and wife Mary are also trainers, has raced horses at Tampa Bay Downs for almost 25 years. He has been shipping horses here the past week from both ThistleDown in Ohio and Ocala, and is gratified by the welcome horsemen are receiving on the backside.
“Everything is nice and clean, and if you have a problem you call maintenance and those guys are right there to fix it,” Bennett said. “They all work together and do a great job. And the track looks good. There is a lot of depth to it.”
The leading trainer here during the 2010-11 season (tied with Jamie Ness), Bennett expects spirited competition throughout the meeting. “It is always tough racing here, over the years,” Bennett said. “You have a lot of people who ship in and think they are going to win races, but you need to have a runner to win here.”
An added enticement this season came in the form of a 15-percent purse increase for horsemen, with maiden special weight races offering $24,000 (which includes $4,000 in FOA funds). The hike is a result of additional simulcast revenue derived from the track’s classification as a year-round, live-racing facility, which took effect following the two-day Summer Festival of Racing on June 30 and July 1.
“Getting those purses up is going to help a lot of people,” Van Worp said. “This sport is not an easy go, but with the increase, guys with hard-knocking horses will have a better shot to make a few extra dollars.”
Following the Dec. 4 card, Tampa Bay Downs will conduct an entire program of 2-year-old racing Dec. 7, the track’s annual Cotillion Festival Day Presented by Lambholm South celebration. The big day includes a pair of $100,000 stakes: the Inaugural for juvenile colts and geldings and the Sandpiper for juvenile fillies.
Dec. 7 also features Breakfast at the Downs in the track’s Picnic Pavilion Area adjacent to the paddock. For $6.95, patrons will receive a full breakfast buffet, grandstand admission and 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.
Fans will have the opportunity to watch morning workouts from 8-10 a.m. while meeting trainers and jockeys. Mallett will provide a handicapping seminar from 10-11 a.m. Tickets must be purchased prior to Dec. 7 at Customer Service or the Switchboard Desk.
For details, call (813) 855-4401.

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