HRFLA Staff Report
Tampa Bay Downs will allow spectators on site, with a series of COVID-19 restrictions and precautions, when it begins the regular part of its 2020-2021 racing meet on Wednesday Nov. 25.
The meet will have 90 days and run through May 2.
Tampa Bay will be one of the few U.S. thoroughbred tracks to have spectators, and thus live betting, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
The Oldsmar, Fla., track did not say if it will place any limits on attendance.
But it said it has established various measures to ensure social distancing, including:
· The creation of more outdoor, private spaces for small groups
· A limited number of benches on the apron of the Grandstand, with increased spacing
· Computer-generated, socially distanced Grandstand seating
· A reduction in box seating, from eight to six seats per box.
Tampa Bay Downs has developed a website for fans to reserve seating that provides social distancing. The cost is $5 per seat and must be paid in advance. To purchase seats through the website, go to www.tbdseats.com
The 90-day meeting proper runs through May 2, followed by the annual Summer Festival of Racing on June 30 and July 1.
Tampa Bay Downs will race most Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, adding Sundays starting Dec. 20 and also racing Thursday, Dec. 24.
to the Tampa Bay Downs Web site has the racing schedule for 2020-2021.
Tampa Bay Downs last raced with spectators on March 15. It then raced without spectators through the annual two-day Summer Festival of Racing– generating income and purses for horsemen and horsewomen through Advance Deposit Wagering (ADWs).
Tampa Bay’s racing in May and June included 20 extra days, under permission of the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.
By adding those days, it, helped several dozen trainers who had planned to send horses from Tampa Bay to tracks in northern states for training and racing. Several of those tracks were closed in May and June due to COVID-19.
On March 15, Tampa Bay Downs closed its poker room and its simulcasting area. It re-opened the poker room on June 14 and re-opened for simulcasting on July 1.
Peter Berube, the track’s Vice President-General Manager, expressed optimism that a shared sense of responsibility and respect among track employees, horsemen, jockeys and fans will enable spectators to attend all season.
“We understand that many of our patrons would like to see a return to pre-Coronavirus status, while many others are concerned about venturing outside their homes while the pandemic continues to pose a threat,” Berube said.
He added: “We believe it is important to listen to and respect all viewpoints, but our biggest duty is doing everything possible to keep our customers and employees healthy. Without fans at the track, racing loses some of its excitement and charm, and our on-track business suffers.”
Tampa Bay Downs has also implemented rules to protect jockeys. Riders, jockey room staff, starting gate personnel, etc., will undergo rapid COVID testing prior to their arrival, with twice-weekly testing from there on. No newcomers will be allowed without a negative test, and jockeys will be restricted to their designated areas on race days and required to leave the room following their last ride of the day.
Other elements of the track’s COVID-19 protocol include increasing the number of hand-sanitizing stations throughout the facility; ongoing cleaning and sterilizing of high-touch surfaces and areas; socially distanced markers on the floors; providing disinfecting wipes next to wagering machines, replay TVs and high-touch machines; and installing Plexiglas partitions between employees and customers at the Customer Service desk, program windows, concession stands and Gift Shop.