11/29/2012 4:48PM

Tampa Bay Downs: New wrinkles should help increase handle, field size

Tom Keyser
Tampa Bay Downs begins a 91-day season Saturday that will continue through May 5, 2013.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – Over the past decade Tampa Bay Downs has emerged as a major player on the winter racing scene with the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby developing into a legitimate Kentucky Derby prep. On the business side, the operation has almost doubled its all-sources average daily handle.

But last season the track suffered declines in both handle and average field size, with all-sources handle down almost 11 percent from the previous year and field size dropping from 9.11 to 8.54 horses per race. Contributing factors included problems with the turf course late in the season and a disagreement that kept Tampa’s races from being broadcast on Television Games Network.

As the track begins a 91-day meeting Saturday, management is cautiously optimistic that a revised racing schedule, a vigorous slate of turf racing, and a return to TVG will help the operation bounce back.

“I think our declines last season were a reflection of the overall climate of racing,” said track president Peter Berube. “The economic situation has hit all segments of racing. You see trainers who used to have 30 or 40 horses now have 12 or 15. Foal production is down and the industry as a whole is struggling.”

[TAMPA BAY DOWNS: Get PPs, watch Saturday's full card live]

Berube said that Tampa has taken steps he thinks will go a long way toward putting the track back on an upward climb.

“We have reduced the number of five-day racing weeks from eight to six this season,” he said. “We feel this will put less strain on our horse population and will enable us to increase our overall field size.

“In additon we have reconditioned our turf course and plan on offering even more turf races than last season when we ran over 200 races on the grass. Turf racing is very popular with bettors and we plan on giving them more turf racing than ever at Tampa this meeting.”

An agreement was reached Thursday to put the Tampa races back on TVG.

“Fans who have wagering accounts or bet and return home like the convenience of watching races on TV,” he said, “and TVG is a major player.”

A full slate of stakes races, starting with the $75,000 Inaugural and $75,000 Sandpiper Stakes on opening day, are scheduled. The two biggest days of the meet will be March 9, when the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby and Grade 3, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes will be run, and the Feb. 2 card, which will showcase the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam Davis and Grade 3, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes. The Tampa Bay Derby is part of the new Kentucky Derby qualifying system with the first four finishers earning points on a 50-20-10-5 basis.

Jamie Ness, the leading trainer in North America by wins this year, has won or shared the last seven Tampa training titles. He will be challenged by several top stables, including those of Gerald Bennett, who tied with Ness for leading trainer in 2010-11; Jane Cibelli, who is completing her best year in terms of races won and purse earnings; and others like Leigh Delacour, Kathleen O’Connell, and Jorge Navarro.

Four-time leading rider Daniel Centeno tops a strong jockey colony that includes 2010-11 leading rider Ronnie Allen along with Angel Serpa, Scott Spieth, and newcomer Victor Santiago.

Jeffries Will More than 1 year ago
Let's be serious, you make not like their personalities but the TVG guys are pretty good! They get paid to handicap not be on Good Morning America. I wish my subscriber carried it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
That would be nice, if they knew how to handicap. I'd put George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts ahead of the motley crew at TVG as handicapping gurus.
PeterG More than 1 year ago
This could be the greatest gambling game in the world but it's been ruined by guys like Ness, Dutrow, Baffert, Kirk Zadie, Doug O'Neil who are constantly sticking the needle in their horses. I hope they are happy with the money they stole. They are thieves and they should be in jail. Fixing sporting events is a felony and a serious one.
PeterG More than 1 year ago
Quote from the article: "Jamie Ness, the leading trainer in North America by wins this year, has won or shared the last seven Tampa training titles." Oh what a coincidence, he's #1 on the illegal drugs violation list too ! Go figure. 1 violation every 217 starts as of 10/26/10. (link below, the chart is about half way down the page) http://www.horsefund.org/the-chemical-horse-part-9.php The game is being ruined by these scumbags. Calder, Tampa, why on earth would anybody with any sense in their head bet on these tracks? The races are fixed. The past performances mean nothing at these tracks.
David More than 1 year ago
Agree on the Ness thing, buy a horse for 10,000, drug it, and drop in for a 5000 tag. No smart player will bet those races.
Gerard Doise More than 1 year ago
TVG usually has good television coverage. The on set support staff does a horrible job, as I have seen them leave the TV personalities looking like idiots. TVG has horrible customer service and they cost too much to wager through when you just don't need to pay what they want. Why pay $20 a month when you don't have to? Then they have such poor coverage of tracks that are available. They want you to subscribe to the video service. The TV staff is always saying they do not have the right to televise tracks such as Santa Anita, The Fair Grounds, Churchill and others. I have a close friend who works for The fair grounds who has stated TVG wants them to pay them to carry their signal. They do not need TVG, just as I do not need them. TVG has an advantage of having Comcast carry them and they will not add HRTV or any others. I do admit that TVG covering Tampa Bay will help, if they just give them full coverage and do not leave viewers hanging to see races, as they usually do!
Chris Jones More than 1 year ago
Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds, Arlington Park & Calder are all owned by Churchill Downs - Twinspires who has a partnership with Magna who happens to own Xpressbet & Gulfstream, Pimlico & Santa Anita. Thus, TVG has not been showing any of those tracks. TVG did recently reach a deal to show Santa Anita this winter... By the way, if one wagers $2k a month, the $20 one pays to wager is refunded thru TVG.
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Wonderful place to spend an afternoon...on Saturdays it's not unusual to see "sweet" Lou Pinella outside in the club boxes handicapping away (don't ask for autographs) and talking horses. By the way if you need a break from the horses you can take out your frustrations at their Golf Driving Range.....fore !
Paul Patane More than 1 year ago
You guys keep beating up TVG, and they are a mini ESPN with lots of egos. But bottom line is they get paid to sit in a studio with a nice clean suit on and talk horses. Best job ever!! I can't tell you how many 6-1s Matt Crothers has giving me since 2009. He hates favorites and always will give you solid multiple reasons why he dosent like a horse. Last summer, he got into a 2 week zone at the beginning of saratoga where he was white hot. Hands down best public/TV handicaper on TV. Not even close.
Chris Jones More than 1 year ago
You must be kidding. He is the WORST public handicapper there is. Just watch "Blinkers-off" on Fridays on TVG. He keeps a rolling tally of weekly $2 W/P wagers and he is down. We all want prices, but the goal is to pick winners. Matt may catch a 6-1 but he picked 10 losers before he got the 6-1. That is a losing proposition.
Paul Patane More than 1 year ago
I live about 4 miles from track, but its still hard to get excited about $12500 msw on grass. The actual facility is really clean, on track restaurant food is good, poker room on 3rd floor is unique, and access to paddock is nice. I find myself getting a table, and playing gulfstream and having drinks/food. Tbd is a nice track, but I get a headache looking at pps with low it's low quality horses/purses. If your a horse player that plays numbers and quick picks, this is your track. But I like to handicap and analyze big fields, so its a tough fit.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
hire a dependable bugler
raymond More than 1 year ago
TVG is the king of nepotism. Politics, politics.