When you talk about horse racing, people always think of Kentucky and the Kentucky Derby, but Florida has a thriving thoroughbred industry as well, and Florida’s two tracks, Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar and Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, play a major role in the thoroughbred horse racing scene. For this reason, we decided to pay a visit to Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, which is right outside of the Tampa City limits, to try out our handicapping skills and to experience horse racing first hand.
I was surprised to find out that Tampa Bay Downs first opened its doors in 1926, so there is quite a long history of horse racing here, and many big name horses have run this track. In fact, Tampa Bay Downs is home to the Tampa Bay Derby, a stakes race that is run every March and is a qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby, which means the winner of this race will most certainly qualify to run for the roses on the 1st Saturday in May. The next running of the Tampa Bay Derby is March 7th, 2020, and is a great chance to see an eventual Kentucky Derby contender up close.
Tampa Bay Downs horse racing season is late November thru the 1st week of May when the Florida weather is at its best. We went on a beautiful Saturday in December, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous at a mild 78 degrees. We started off in the bleacher seating near the track fence to get an up-close experience of the sights and sounds of a horse race, but by mid-afternoon, we found that we needed to seek shade in the grandstand as the sun was beating down on us in force.
There are no bad seats as from every seat, and you can view the big screen that sits in the track infield so you won’t miss any race action. We found it quite amusing when we arrived at the track to find that the center of attraction on the big screen was an alligator that calls the pond in the infield home. No one seemed to pay him much mind as he lay in the grass, taking in the December sun.
Our handicapping skills left much to be desired as we were able to pick only one winner, a horse that was a sure favorite whose win paid us out a whopping two dollars. It was interesting listening to the people around us as they talked about their theories on the next race and why they thought a particular horse would win. Some theories were right, and I wished I had played their hunch, and some theories were just as bad as mine. Oh well, win some, lose some.
The one thing that I enjoyed the most was viewing the horses with their trainers and jockeys in the paddock before each race. It was cool to hear the traditional bugle call to post and watch the post parade as the horses with jockeys aboard march toward the starting line. We found some people hold off on betting until they view the horses’ demeanor in the paddock and post parade. Everyone has a theory on how to pick a winner!!
We are not horseplayers, really, so for us, it was $2.00 win bets and a pretty inexpensive and fun way to spend an afternoon. Admission, a couple of hot dogs, popcorn, soda, a race program, and 10 bets equaled about $60, not bad for a whole day worth of entertainment. Now don’t get me wrong, as I am sure it can get out of hand if you are not careful. We did not play the exotic bets, like the trifectas or superfectas that if you box can be anywhere from $6.00 to $24.00 per bet on up. We just kept it simple and fun, nothing serious, and even though we only had $2.00 on the line and little expectations on winning, we found it to be exhilarating.
There are a couple of snack bars and several areas to get an adult beverage, and for those who might want to experience upscale dining at the racetrack, I would recommend the Skye Terrace. Reservations are required and there is a dress code of no shorts and collared shirts.
If you are in the Tampa area and looking for a different kind of experience that does not have to cost a lot and is still exciting, I would recommend a day at the horse races at Tampa Bay Downs. Children are welcome, but of course, they are not allowed to wager.
Tampa Bay Downs is located at 11225 Racetrack Road in Oldsmar, Florida, with live racing on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday only. Live racing is only held the end of November through the 1st weekend in May. No live racing on Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday. Tampa Bay Downs also offers the Silks Poker Room, which is open 7 days per week.
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