Racing News

STRONG 2021-2022 SEASON GENERATES OPTIMISM FOR FUTURE SUCCESS

by Mike Henry

Tampa Bay Downs posted significant gains in most major categories during the 2021-2022 season when compared to the 2018-2019 (pre-pandemic) meet – including average daily all-sources wagering handle and total purse money paid to horsemen.

Although the increases weren’t as eye-popping when lined up against 2020-2021, Peter Berube, the track’s Vice President & General Manager, finds much to be encouraged by as the Oldsmar oval strengthens its position as one of the nation’s most popular winter Thoroughbred simulcast signals.

“Our Thoroughbred racing product has been very well-received, both by Tampa Bay area fans and the simulcast market throughout the country,” said Berube, who attributed the increases in large part to the ongoing upgrade in the quality of racing and the attractiveness of the turf program.

“The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby card (on March 12) generated almost $21-million in wagering, which represented a 36-percent increase from the previous record of $15.2-million set last year and was the most of any racetrack in the country that day.”

In evaluating the success of the meet, Berube compared the final figures to both the 2020-2021 season and the 2018-2019 numbers.

This season’s total live all-sources handle for 89 days of racing was $401,467,564, a 1.72-percent increase from last season and 18.62 percent above the 2018-2019 mark. Total live on-track handle of $16,324,991 was a whopping 23.41 percent above last season and 2.98 percent over 2018-2019.

Wagering handle per starter was $64,317, up 10.19 percent from last season and 28.08 percent from 2018-2019. The average handle per race was $488,998.

Berube said behind-the-scenes efforts by numerous key players was pivotal to the track’s rising popularity. “The Racing Office, led by (Racing Secretary) Allison De Luca, does a fantastic job of putting together highly competitive cards and making owners and trainers aware of all Tampa Bay Downs has to offer,” Berube said.

“Our track maintenance crew, headed by Tom McLaughlin, takes a backseat to no one in maintaining both surfaces to a level of excellence. (Director of Group Sales) Nicole McGill and her staff continue to come up with creative ways to attract new fans, which is essential for our continued growth.”

A crowd of 7,756 attended Saturday’s season-ending Kentucky Derby Day card, which featured nine “live” Tampa Bay Downs races generating more than $4.7-million in total wagering. Most of the fans remained afterward to watch the Derby, won by 80-1 shot Rich Strike, on the jumbo video board in the infield.

“It’s gratifying for all of us to see the tremendous enthusiasm for horse racing on major race days like the Kentucky Derby and the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby,” Berube said.

Thoroughbred racing will return to Tampa Bay Downs on June 30 and July 1 for the 10th annual Summer Festival of Racing.

Tampa Bay Downs paid out $18,204,465 in purse money in 2021-2022, up 8.02 percent from 2020-2021 and 17.03-percent from 2018-2019. The average daily purse distribution of $204,545 is a track record.

“Racing is an expensive undertaking, and the costs associated with participating have risen over the last several years,” Berube said. “For us to continue to grow our product, we need to keep focusing on ways to increase wagering, which drives the increase in purse money.”

Mirroring trends at the majority of North American racetracks, the average field size per race dropped from 8.27 horses a race last season to 7.86. Berube said the decline in average field size is primarily attributable to a steady drop in the size of the North American foal crop, from 28,420 in 2010 to an estimated 19,200 in 2021.

With horses getting harder to come by, more Tampa Bay Downs horsemen than ever chose to restock their stables through claiming races, which allow them to purchase horses for a pre-set price. An all-time Oldsmar oval record of 351 horses were claimed (131 more than last season) at a total cost of $3,970,000.

About 30 percent of the horses claimed were sought by multiple horsemen, resulting in “shakes” (drawing the winning claims slip out of a box) to determine the new owner.

On the racetrack, 3-year-old colt Classic Causeway won both the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes and the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, in which he finished 11th.  Undefeated (6-for-6) turf specialist Bleecker Street, a 4-year-old filly, won both the Grade III Endeavour Stakes and the Grade II Hillsborough Stakes, returning to competition last Friday at Churchill Downs to capture the Grade III Modesty Stakes presented by TwinSpires.

Apprentice jockey Madeline Rowland, an 18-year-old from Landenberg, Pa., became a virtual overnight sensation, winning 34 races while completing her high school education online. She finished in ninth place in the track standings. Known to family, friends – and now, an adoring following – as Maddie, she was named the Salt Rock Tavern Jockey of the Month in April and concluded her season by riding four winners on Kentucky Derby Day.

Samy Camacho was the track’s leading jockey with 85 winners, good for his second consecutive title and third in the last four years. Gerald Bennett captured his seventh consecutive training title and eighth overall with 36 victories.

The top owner entering the Summer Festival of Racing (the June 30 card, for record-keeping purposes, is officially the final day of the 2021-2022 meet) is Endsley Oaks Farm with 24 victories. Endsley Oaks, in Brooksville, Fla., is owned by Bob and Jill Jones.

Three horses are tied with the most victories at the meet, with four apiece: 3-year-old filly Katies a Lady, owned by Terry E. Davie and trained by Kathleen O’Connell; 10-year-old gelding Native Hawk, owned and trained by Juan Arriagada; and 6-year-old gelding Tony Small, owned by Mark Hoffman and trained by Maria Bowersock.