Bet the ponies at Tampa Bay Downs

The horses head around the first turn during the 1 1/16 mile turf race during a recent Thursday at Tampa Bay Downs.

Stefanie Boyar | Times

The horses head around the first turn during the 1 1/16 mile turf race during a recent Thursday at Tampa Bay Downs.

If dogs, cards or slot machines aren't enough for the gambler inside you, check out Tampa Bay Downs.

Opened in 1926, Tampa Bay Downs is the only thoroughbred race track on Florida's west coast.

The racetrack began its 83rd season of live racing on Dec. 13, with live races running through May 3. The season includes 26 "stake" races worth $2.7-million, including the $225,000 Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 14.

Want a few more insider tips? Times sportswriter Rodney Page offers his primer on Tampa Bay Downs.

WHERE: The track's street address is 11225 Racetrack Road, Tampa. That puts it in the northwest area of town, next to the town of Oldsmar and neighboring Pinellas County.

WHEN: The track is open for live racing every day except Mondays and Wednesdays in January (It will be open Wednesday, Jan. 21, however). First race begins at 12:25 p.m. and there are usually between 10-12 races per day.

CONTACT: www.tampabaydowns.com; (813) 855-4401.

ADMISSION: Grandstand admission is free on weekdays, $2 on weekends; Clubhouse admission is $3. Parking is free, valet parking is $5.

WHAT TO BRING: Sun screen, pen or pencil (to mark up the program), folding chair (if you plan on sitting by the rail), Binoculars (to see your horse fade on the backstretch), Cash (there is an ATM machine, but it costs $3 per transaction!).

WHAT TO BET: Horses are obviously the main attraction. See how they look in the program, or how they look pacing in the paddock. There is also simulcasting from horse tracks like Gulfstream Park, Aqueduct, Santa Anita or Laurel Park. Harness racing is also available, as is dog racing and Jai Alai.

WHERE TO WATCH: If the weather is nice, the best place by far is outside on one of the benches next to the finish line. The horses thunder by and the dirt almost flies in your face. After the race, the jockeys walk right by the fans on their way to the paddock (but they hate it when you heckle them). There is also a picnic area further down the home stretch, complete with covered and uncovered benches, a concession stand, and full simulcasting. But what's nice about the area is they let you bring in your own coolers, chairs and blankets. You can bet on some horses and let your kids play freeze tag on the lawn.

INDOOR OPTIONS: For those who would rather stay indoors, there is a clubhouse on the first turn that includes sit down dining. There is regular sports bar type food on the first floor, or there are fancier choices like seafood and prime rib on the second floor. All have plenty of TVs to watch live racing or simulcast feeds from tracks around the country.

WHAT ELSE: If horse racing isn't enough action, there is the Silks Poker Room on the second floor that is open from 12:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. seven days a week. Or if you still have money after the races, check out the driving range next door to the track. It's state of the art with covered and uncovered tees and chipping and putting greens.

--Rodney Page

Bet the ponies at Tampa Bay Downs 01/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 3:31pm]

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