by Mike Henry

OLDSMAR, FL. – Early arrivals at the Tampa Bay Downs barn area searching for a slice of peace and tranquility came to the right place. Temperatures in the low 70s, a cloudless sky and gentle breezes were embraced this morning by trainers, riders and horses alike.

“It’s heaven to be back,” said trainer Joan Scott, peering down her shedrow at about a dozen runners already comfortable in their new surroundings since getting to Oldsmar from Kentucky on Sunday morning. “The warm weather is nice and this is such a relaxing atmosphere, even when we’re busy. The horses get sun on their backs in the round pen and I get the sun on my back, too.”

The track officially opened for training today, but no one seemed in much of a hurry. Even Scott, known for keeping a tight schedule, took time to enjoy a made-to-order, “western-veggie” omelet in Papa Jim’s Kitchen next to the racing office.

With the 89th anniversary season of Thoroughbred racing at the Oldsmar oval set to resume Nov. 29, Scott knows there is time before she and her horses need to get down to serious business.

“That’s the nice thing about coming in this early – it gives the horses a little bit of rest and me, too,” said the Grade I-winning trainer, who was stabled at Keeneland through the conclusion of the Lexington, Ky., track’s fall meet 10 days ago. “We’ve been running all summer, so that part is really nice.”

William Downing shares Scott’s fondness for the tranquil surroundings of the track that opened in 1926 under the auspices of Kentucky Colonel Matt J. Winn, the man credited for popularizing the Kentucky Derby.

“How could you not feel good about being here?” said Downing, who competed this summer and early fall at Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts. “After I left Boston, they had snow. I loved snow as a kid, but my parents always said I wouldn’t like it when I got older and they were right.

“I’ve been training here since 1998, so I know all the people, pretty much,” said Downing, whose niece, Miranda Downing, is also a Tampa Bay Downs trainer. “I like the track and the backside, the whole setup. And you have horses arriving from all over the country, which makes for good racing.”

As Downing spoke, his 3-year-old filly, Kallies Kruisin, grazed outside her barn. A diminutive Kentucky-bred, she enters the 2014-15 Tampa Bay Downs meeting on a four-race winning streak. Downing acquired her privately after she broke her maiden last season at Tampa Bay Downs. Leading Suffolk Downs jockey David Amiss galloped her this morning.

“She’s a pretty little horse, but she has some sassiness to her, too,” Downing said. “It’s too early to worry about what kind of race she’s going to run in here. As long as they try, they have a fighting chance, and she tries. That means a lot.”

For the time being, though, all Kallies Kruisin seemed to be interested in was munching on grass and clover outside her stall.

For photos of the first day of training at Tampa Bay Downs, please visit the track’s Facebook page.