1. Sports

Most influential women in Tampa Bay sports: Stella Thayer, Tampa Bay Downs

Stella Thayer
Published Jul. 10, 2016

Tampa Bay Downs has always played a pivotal role for women in a male-dominated industry.

In 1981, Julie Krone, then an apprentice jockey, won her first race at the Oldsmar track. She finished her career with 3,704 victories — the most of any female jockey — and was the first woman inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

But the most influential woman at Tampa Bay Downs has been Stella Thayer, who has been involved with the track for more than 50 years.

Her love of horses began much earlier. She started riding when she was 5. Her father, Chester Ferguson, was part of an ownership group that acquired Tampa Bay Downs in 1965 (it was then called Florida Downs and Turf Club).

When Thayer purchased the track for $16.5 million in 1986, she outbid former New York Yankees owner and Tampa icon George Steinbrenner.

Soon after, Thayer named controller Lorraine M. King as Tampa Bay Downs' general manager. It marked the first time in turf history a thoroughbred track had separate female ownership and management.

Thayer has been a pioneer for bay area women in the business world, too. She was the first woman to preside over the Tampa Chamber of Commerce and has served on a number of boards.


  1. Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) and defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) look on as the Minnesota Wild celebrate their goal scored by right wing Mats Zuccarello (36) to go up 5 to 4 during third period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 in Tampa. The Wild scored the goal just 8 seconds after Lightning Alex Killorn (17) scored a goal to tie the score 4-4. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Tampa Bay gave up five goals and lost to the Wild. That’s three too many, according to their coach.
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77) celebrates beating Minnesota Wild goaltender Alex Stalock (32) to score his 100th career goal during second period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 in Tampa. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The loss to Minnesota puts a damper on the milestone, but he’s the first Tampa Bay defenseman to do it.
  3. Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Aaron Murray tosses the ball during practice Thursday in Plant City. "It's grind time," he said. XFL
    The Vipers begin their offseason program in Plant City.
  4. Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston and the Bucs face the Indianapolis Colts at 1 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here are our picks for this week’s NFL games.
  5. In this 2017 photo, Cambridge Christian coach Bob Dare (center, blue shirt) wraps an around the visiting coach from Champagnat during a post-game prayer. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    The longtime Lancers coach, who led the program to the state title game in 2015, will no longer be a coach or teacher at the school.
  6. USF hosts Dartmouth and more sports on the air.
  7. Hedman scores his 100th career goal as the Bolts are defeated
  8. Former USF players Quinton Flowers and Marlon Mack talk on the sideline during a recent Bulls game at Raymond James Stadium on Oct. 12. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Don’t read much into the former USF quarterback’s refusal to discuss his former coach’s possible return to USF.
  9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) celebrates his sack on Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan during the first half of a Nov. 24 game in Atlanta. JOHN AMIS  |  AP
    The Bucs rookie has 14.5 sacks, two shy of the club record held by Warren Sapp.
  10. River Ridge senior Brandi Willard is among the area leaders in points per game so far this season. SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times
    Our offensive and defensive leaders for Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties.