OLDSMAR — The word of the day Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs was first.
On an afternoon when the track surpassed $4-million in all-source handle for the first time in 83 meet openers, trainer Bernell Rhone and son-in-law jockey Dean Butler won their first Downs stakes with 29-1 shot Game N Laughin', a 5-year-old Distorted Humor mare making her initial local start for owner Diamond G Ranch.
A crowd of 5,471 — 472 less than last season — attended the opener. But the track showed its popularity with a record all-source handle of $4,443,777 being wagered on the 11-race card, a 14 percent increase over last year.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd have to rate the day a 10," said Peter Berube, Downs vice president and general manager.
"I think we took the steps to entice people to come out here this year with free admission, free parking, reduced takeouts. I think just getting all the ADW (advanced-wagering) stuff put to rest is reflected in the numbers that we see (Saturday) in co-mingled handle. I think that bodes well for the beginning of the meet."
On Friday, Berube and Downs horsemen struck a deal with ADW venues, ensuring the track signal will be available to those sites for the next year. That move resulted in the track setting a handle record despite a 15 percent decline in live on-track wagering.
The first two races were held in memory of horsemen Larry Higgins and Kenny Ebersole, who died this year.
In the Lightning City, Game N Laughin' held off Jazzy by a neck, paying $61.40 to win. Her time on the roughly 5-furlong turf course was 57.21 seconds.
Greyhounds: Flying Mancini ($8.20) and Kiowa Muse ($21.80) won third-round qualifying races in the $75,000 660-Yard Challenge at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg. Flying Mancini and Hi Noon Hypnotic share the points lead at 40 entering Wednesday's final round.