Rebekah Pratt and Bobby Dugan reached over the railing to get an autograph from T.D. Houghton, who was walking toward the jockey room after posting his first win of the Tampa Bay Downs meet aboard Intriguing Lady.
Houghton noticed the two Seminole youngsters, smiled and stopped to put his name on their programs.
It was a priceless moment on a signature day for the Downs, which began its 2006-07 meet and 81st season of live thoroughbred racing Saturday.
With the 11-race card going off nearly flawlessly, the Downs set opening-day records in attendance and all-source handle.
It was a day for favorites as eight of 11 won, including Dream of Angels by 14 lengths in the 22nd running of the $60,000 Inaugural Stakes.
Ridden by Richard Eramia and trained by Steven Standridge, Dream of Angels paid $3.20, finishing ahead of 52-1 shot Captain Cameron and El Bandido Rojo. It was the fourth consecutive victory in six starts for the Florida-bred 2-year-old Trippi colt owned by Kevin and Pamela Halter. His time over a fast dirt track for 6 furlongs was 1 minute, 10.89 seconds.
"The day went very, very smoothly," track vice president and general manager Peter Berube said. "It was an uneventful opening, at least in terms of having issues or distractions. The sun came out, the wind died down a little bit and it was quite comfortable in the sunshine."
The crowd of 5,582 and all-source handle of $3,883,294 bettered the records of 5,459 and $3,734,140 established Dec. 10, 2005.
With the exception of a horse breaking through the gate prematurely in the eighth race, the card couldn't have gone any better or been seen any better. The talk of the track was the new $500,000 Daktronic video board, which gave fans a crystal-clear view of the racing action from its infield location.
Eleven trainers, including defending champion Kirk Ziadie, won races. Jose Lezcano didn't allow for that sort of parity in the jockey colony. Last year's leading rider with 92 victories, Lezcano was the only jockey with multiple victories, scoring three times with Ivan Jay Perry (sixth race, $3.60), Barkley Sound (seventh, $3.60) and Family Biz (11th, $5.80).
The lone major payout came in the third race when Luis Gonzalez rode Formal Etiquette to an upset, paying $40.40 for a $2 win ticket.
Attending opening day meant more than cashing tickets for Charles and Zaida Eckenrode of Clearwater. They braved the windy and chilly morning to meet horsemen and watch thoroughbreds work out during Breakfast at the Downs in the picnic pavilion.
Armed with their "lucky" ink pen and Downs calendar, the Eckenrodes got autographs from trainers such as Joe Waunsch, James Hartley and Bob Jeffries and rider Joseph Judice.
"It's cold out here, but I wouldn't miss today for anything," Charles Eckenrode said.
Downs customer service employee Carol Rice worked throughout the day, beginning with the breakfast.
"I have been busy ever since I got here," she said. "I've seen a lot of familiar faces, but a lot of new ones, too."