By Bill Finley
Scheduled to end May 3, the Tampa Bay Downs meet will now be extended to May 30. The track made the announcement Thursday on its Twitter feed.
Tampa had revealed its intentions to expand the meet earlier this week, but could not make an official announcement until receiving permission from Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to add the extra days. Tampa currently races four days a week, but once the extended meet begins will cut back to three. There will be no racing on Sundays. Under the new schedule, 12 days of racing will be run that would not have been otherwise.
Horsemen at Tampa were in a difficult situation as nearly all of them relocate to another track once Tampa closes. Most of the tracks they normally go to are scheduled to race any time soon and some have not opened their backstretches to incoming horses.
“We wanted to assist the horsemen because it was not clear where they could go once we end our season,” said Tampa Bay Downs Director of Marketing Margo Flynn. “To be able to help them through that process was first and foremost in our plans. Without the horsemen we are nothing. We wanted to make something work for everyone.”
Tampa Bay Downs HBPA President Bob Jeffries commended track management for its efforts to keep racing going.
“I’ll tell you something about Tampa Bay Downs, they’ve gone to every extent to keep things under control,” he said. “They are doing everything they can to make this work and it’s working super good for us. We couldn’t have done it without the ownership. They worked hard to make this work and it’s been a team deal.”
Tampa is one of five Thoroughbred tracks still operating, a list that will go down to four after Oaklawn closes May 2. The handful of tracks that have stayed opened have all benefitted from large increases in handle, a result of there being so little competition for the gambling dollar.
“Handle has been higher than our expectations,” Flynn said. “We’re thrilled that people are taking to our simulcast signal and betting our races with enthusiasm. We realize that is because of the limited opportunities that are out there for people to bet on.”