by Mike Henry

Thoroughbred racing will be the main focus when the 2016-2017 Tampa Bay Downs meeting resumes on Saturday. But the Oldsmar oval has scheduled an abundance of special events to delight newcomers, intrigue novices and beckon anyone else eager to enjoy a day in the sunshine while watching the equine stars perform.

Beginning with the “10 Days of Festivus Challenge On-line Handicapping Contest” that starts Friday, Dec. 2 and running through “Fan Appreciation Day” on Sunday, May 7, the track will offer numerous giveaways; “Kids & Family Day” outings; appearances by Mouse the Miniature Horse, the track mascot; and the annual two-day Golfest expo and demo days event at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

The full promotional event schedule is available at http://www.tampabaydowns.com/visitor-information/event-calendars

“Tampa Bay Downs has long been known as ‘the friendliest little track in North America,’ and we believe many of our special events contribute to that reputation,” said Margo Flynn, the track’s Vice President of Marketing and Publicity.

“Whether someone is a veteran handicapper who wants to test their skill for a chance to win $1,000, a fan who doesn’t wager much but loves watching the races or a family making their first visit, we want them to leave here planning to come back soon and bring their friends.”

Few days on the Tampa Bay sporting scene are more socially directed than the annual “Welcome Back” Breakfast at the Downs, scheduled Saturday, Dec. 3 from 8-10 a.m. in the Trackside Picnic Pavilion Area. For $8, attendees receive a delicious meal while watching morning workouts and mingling with horsemen and jockeys.

Andrew Demsky, the track’s Paddock Preview Host, videographer and handicapping expert, will be among a group of featured speakers.

Entry into the “10 Days of Festivus Challenge,” which begins the previous day, is free. Tampa Bay Downs will also conduct the annual “Live It Up Challenge” Handicapping Contest, which begins Saturday, Feb. 11.

The track’s first giveaway promotion is Dec. 28, 30 and 31, when the first 10,000 patrons receive the 2017 Tampa Bay Downs calendar, with paid admission.

Cap Giveaway Day is Saturday, Jan. 28, with paid fans receiving a distinctive brim with the track logo, while supplies last. Jockeys will be available for autographs between races. On Saturday, March 11 – the track’s annual Festival Day program, highlighted by the Grade II, $350,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby – paid fans will receive a stylish nylon umbrella with images of the stakes winners from the 2016 Festival Day card, also while supplies last.

Four “Kids & Family Day” celebrations are slated throughout midseason (on Feb. 12, Feb. 26, March 5 and March 19), with children getting to meet Mouse and enjoy pony rides, bounce houses and a variety of games and activities.

“With all that we have to offer at the racetrack, along with tournament action and daily games in The Silks Poker Room and our top-level golf facility, we believe Tampa Bay Downs has emerged as the No. 1 multi-entertainment destination on the west coast of Florida,” Flynn said.