By Bob Bauer
Tampa Bay Downs resumes its 2017-2018 season on Saturday Nov. 25.
The 89-day meeting runs through Sunday, May 6, 2018. Then, there will be no live racing in Oldsmar until the mid-summer festival on June 30 and July 1.
This once little known track has become popular with horseplayers, boasting large competitive fields and good payoffs. Simulcasting and off-track betting have made the Tampa signal available across America, Canada and many overseas venues.
The racing quality and the facility itself have been constantly upgraded year by year. This season, work was completed on a project to improve the video system.
Fans can now watch races and replays in high-definition clarity whether on-track, at a simulcast facility or on a personal device. Also, a new 510-square foot high-definition screen was installed in the infield this fall.
As for the racing, the Downs has announced the richest stakes schedule in its history. Twenty-eight stakes will be run for a record $3.6 million in total purses.
Â Festival Day, the seasonal highlight on March 10, will offer five stakes worth a total of $l million. The purse for the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, the marquee event for sophomores with Triple Crown hopes, has been raised to $400,000.
Â Bigger purses should result in better competition.
Tampa Bay Downs has certainly gained a reputation as a track to watch for talented runners preparing for major campaigns.
Â Last season, Tapwrit went on to win the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes after taking the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. The son of Tapit appearing fit and ready, closed stoutly for the Belmont victory, perhaps as a result of racing over the deep and sandy Tampa surface.
Always Dreaming flashed potential when he broke his maiden here and parlayed that ability to capture the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park and Grade 1 Kentucky Derby.
World Approval used a victory in Tampa Bay’s Turf Classic for Florida-breds as a stepping stone to his win in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Many trainers believe that their horses gain an edge in fitness from their time in Tampa.
Saturday Feature The feature event of the opening day card is the tenth race–the $26,500 Lightning City Prep. It is a $100,000 optional claiming race at five furlongs on turf for fillies and mares 3-YO and up.
This is the prep for the $100,000 Lighting City Stakes, to be run Dec. 16 under the same conditions as the prep.
Pink Mama, from the barn of last season’s top trainer Gerald Bennett, appears to be the one to beat this Saturday.
Handicapping Tips Tampa Bay Downs can be a difficult place for a bettor to operate in the early part of the season.
Horses and their connections are shipping in from all over the country. It takes a little time to sort things out. Many runners are coming back after being off for several months.
All of these variables make the handicapping process more challenging. In addition to betting with some restraint, here are some ideas to help:
*Basic handicapping is important. Pay attention to back-class, speed and pace figures.
*Watch for horses that ship in to face conditioned claiming company for the first time. This kind, often showing dull recent form, win at Tampa every season.
*It appears that horses stabled on the grounds for several weeks get acclimated to their surroundings and may have an edge on those who ship in on race day.
Workouts over the demanding Tampa oval are a big plus. The more the better. Look for runners who have run well here in the past, especially after a layoff.
*The Tampa dirt track is known to be fair without changes from hour to hour or day to day. The surface can be a bit dull early on, but it quickens with increased use.
Wire to wire winners are possible in sprints (up to 6 furlongs), if a lone early speed type gets things their own way. In longer sprints, (6 I/2 and 7 furlongs) and routes favor late runners who show a large advantage in last race late pace figures
This is also a good rule of thumb for turf routes, where less than l0 percent of winners take the lead before the far turn.
Most changes in either surface are the result of rain and the drying process. The turf can sometimes be a bit kinder to early speed on days after a rain storm, even if labeled good or yielding.
The dirt can be firmer down inside and loose or cuppy in the center after drying out. This helps speed on the rail types.
*Finally, watch out for the new guy (trainer or jockey) in town. Every year it seems that a previously unknown horseman (or woman) comes to the Downs and makes good.
If you can discover such a person before the other players do, you may cash a few tickets at a lucrative price.
Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Good Luck.
NOTE: In an article later this week, HorseRacingFLA associate editor/Tampa Bay correspondent Bob Bauer and editor Jim Freer will have a preview of the top jockeys, trainers and owners who are returning to Tampa Bay Downs for 2017-2018.