OLDSMAR — The stagnant economy has blown nimbus clouds over the thoroughbred racing industry. Less money wagered on the product. Purses trimmed. Stakes eliminated.
Tampa Bay Downs will begin with a clean slate on Dec. 13, opening day of its 83rd season. What happens after that is anyone's guess, but track officials have done what they can to ensure a quality 94-day meet.
For the first time, TBD has five Grade III races, the latest announced Monday when the $225,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes joined the $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby, $200,000 Florida Oaks, $175,000 Hillsborough Stakes and $150,000 Endeavour Breeders' Cup. They will be among 26 stakes races totaling $2,760,000.
TBD will offer new wagers: high five (selecting first five finishers in a race) and rolling daily doubles. There will be reduced takeout on several wagers. On weekdays, free grandstand admission and parking on both sides of Race Track Road will be offered. And the track has moved toward an eco-friendly environment.
"Certainly, it's a challenging time for the entire country, not only for the thoroughbred industry," TBD spokeswoman Margo Flynn said. "We're doing everything we can to try to make people's experience here pleasant and a positive one."
A drop in money bet across the country and a horsemen's dispute over advance-deposit wagering have tracks like Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park in South Florida cutting purses or stakes races. The national Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group is negotiating the ADW issue between the parties involved. It is a hot topic because of revenue produced by growing Internet wagering. As a negotiating tool, horsemen's groups can block track signals to other outlets under the Interstate Horse Racing Act.
The TBD family lost several members in 2008: horsemen Kenny Ebersole, Larry Higgins and Don Rice died along with former rider Parker Buckley. Two 30-year Oldsmar veterans retired: vice president of administration Lorraine King and association steward Robert Clark, who has been replaced by former racing secretary John Morrissey.
Flynn said there has been no change in the status of seven jockeys banned from TBD in 2006 as a result of an ongoing Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau investigation into suspicious betting patterns at several tracks. Two riders — Terry (T.D.) Houghton (Pinnacle Race Course in East Boston, Mich.) and Derek Bell (Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn.) — won riding titles this year. The other jockeys are Jorge Bracho, Luis Castillo, Jose H. Delgado, Joseph Judice and Ricardo Valdes.