OLDSMAR— Faced with a down economy and continued state government wrangling with the Seminole tribe over a gaming pact, Tampa Bay Downs has reduced the schedule for its 84th season of thoroughbred racing that begins Dec. 12.
The meet has been shortened from 94 days to 91, and one stakes race has been dropped. Initial daily purses will average $155,000, including stakes and Florida owners awards.
"One of the factors in having 91 days (is) we were aiming to keep the purse structure as it was for last season," track spokeswoman Margo Flynn said.
"As the rest of the country, we have been experiencing reduced handle. Therefore, that translates into less purse money. (Fewer days) seemed the most innocuous way to have it play out — that people weren't having to sacrifice in races that they were running for."
The $75,000 Chris Thomas Turf Classic, formerly held on Kentucky Derby day, was dropped from the stakes program, leaving the Downs with 25 stakes totaling $2,550,000.
Flynn believes the track will retain five graded stakes for the second consecutive year. They are the $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby, $225,000 Sam F. Davis, $175,000 Florida Oaks, $150,000 Hillsborough and $125,000 Endeavour, all Grade III races.
The American Graded Stakes Committee's annual grading session is Wednesday.
The Tampa Bay Derby heads Oldsmar's signature program, Festival Day, on March 13. Other top cards are Cotillion Festival Day on Dec. 26, Skyway Festival Day on Jan. 16, Festival Preview Day on Feb. 13 and Florida Cup Day on April 3.
Like Derby Lane, the greyhound track in St. Petersburg, the Downs has been frustrated by the failure of Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature to reach a flexible gambling compact with the Seminole tribe of Florida. The Downs and Derby Lane want the ability to offer slot machines; the tribe is seeking exclusivity with slots. A compact could be ratified in December but may be put off until March.
Among state thoroughbred tracks, Gulfstream Park has slot machines, and Calder is preparing to offer them in January at Miami Gardens. Both also have card rooms.
The Downs and Derby Lane have poker, but some customers who also wagered on live racing and simulcasts have gone to Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa.
GREYHOUNDS: Lamorge Streaker of Alderson Kennel recorded the 70th victory of her career Nov. 21 at Derby Lane. It was her 176th start. … Kiowa Lazy Lazy of Lester Raines set a season-best time of 30.28 seconds for 550 yards Nov. 19.