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October 31, 2018


by Mike Henry
Trainers and their charges enjoy the laid-back environment of the Oldsmar barn area, which opened Tuesday in advance of Opening Day on Nov. 24.

On Halloween, the Tampa Bay Downs barn area began its annual transformation from a ghost town into a thriving Thoroughbred metropolis.

By noon today, about eight van loads of horses had passed through the stable gate as their trainers begin preparations for the 2018-2019 meeting, which resumes with the Saturday, Nov. 24 Opening Day card.

Joan Scott, who has been training at Tampa Bay Downs for 14 years, says most of her horses respond positively when they get used to their new surroundings.

“It’s nice for them to get down here in the warm weather and get a little sun on their backs and eat grass,” said Scott, who arrived from Lexington, Ky., with nine of her horses on Tuesday. “We get them clipped and get them acclimated before they start, and a lot of them that have been at the racetrack are able to get in the round pen and relax.


Trainer Joan Scott holds 3-year-old gelding Navy Armed Guard this morning as her assistant gives the big guy a refreshing bath on the Tampa Bay Downs backside

“The skies and the weather are beautiful,” Scott added. “This is a great track with a great turf course, and the other big plus is that it’s so quiet here” (on the backside).

That will change over the next few weeks, although not appreciably in terms of decibels. The Tampa Bay Downs barn area, which abuts the backstretch of the track and is surrounded by woods and slices of wilderness, has a deserved reputation as a peaceful oasis in the midst of life’s daily rush.

“I feel very comfortable here,” said first-year stall man Carlos Garcia, a retired trainer who raced at Tampa Bay Downs for four seasons and won 146 stakes races in a 44-year career. “It’s more laid-back here than at a lot of tracks. I really enjoy working with the people, and with the horses I’m even better.”

Among the trainers who already have shipped horses to Tampa Bay Downs are Kathleen O’Connell, Ben Colebrook and Ignacio Correas, IV, each with horses set to compete during the 35th Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs on Friday and Saturday.

Mike Dini arrived with his first batch of horses from Monmouth Park in New Jersey shortly before 8 a.m. today. The veteran conditioner praised both the Tampa Bay Downs main track and the turf course, which have consistently attracted horses from many of the top stables in the country.

“It’s a good training facility. It’s not as hard as some other racetracks,” Dini said. “If I had a Derby horse, I’d like to train it here.”

And like most of his rival trainers, Dini arrives at Tampa Bay Downs each winter believing almost anything is possible.