OLDSMAR — Backside workers headed for summer destinations and horse vans filled Race Track Road on Sunday as Tampa Bay Downs wrapped up its 2010-11 thoroughbred season. For the second consecutive year, the final day produced a dead heat for the trainer championship.
The Downs concluded its 85th year with gains in average attendance and handle from 2009-10. Attendance increased 3.5 percent to 3,197. Money wagered on the live product improved in every category: on-track, 1.2 percent at $219,680 daily average; in-state, 3.6 percent at $358,869; out-of-state, 9.4 percent at $3,962,409; and total all-source, 8.5 percent at $4,540,957. The Downs ran 90 days. It cancelled the Jan. 6 card with satellite issues. Statistics were available through Equibase, a company that monitors track data. Track vice president and general manager Peter Berube declined to comment.
Gerald Bennett, 67, won two races Sunday, including his final start with Irish Lion in Race 9 under leading jockey Ronnie Allen Jr., to share the conditioning title with Jamie Ness. Both horsemen saddled 61 winners. It was the first Downs crown for Bennett, who has 3,193 career victories. Ness, 36, has been atop the Downs standings for the past five seasons. Last year, he tied Kathleen O'Connell on the closing day.
Allen, 47, captured his first riding championship in 23 years with 109 victories. Angel Moreno was the top apprentice jockey with 17 wins. Midwest Thoroughbreds, Ness' top client, repeated as leading owner with a track-record 59 wins. Three horses tied for most wins at four: Generalissimo, Jr's Exchange and Mister Dish.
For the seventh time in eight years, the Downs sent its Tampa Bay Derby winner to the Kentucky Derby. O'Connell trainee Watch Me Go finished 18th on Saturday and is expected to go to Ocala for freshening.
"He's feeling very good, better than me," O'Connell told a Churchill Downs spokesperson in Louisville, Ky. "You can't go that wide in a race that long." She said Watch Me Go might be pointed toward the Grade II Virginia Derby on July 16 at Colonial Downs in New Kent.
The Downs' 92-day meet in 2011-12 is scheduled to begin Dec. 10.