Sun Coast racing fans 5,459 strong turned out for opening day at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, making it the largest opening day crowd in the track's history, up 6 ½% over last year's opener. On-track wagering was a healthy $558,242, up 25%, out of a total all source handle of $3,759,918, a jump of approximately 19% over last season's opening day handle, according to track officials."We're very pleased with the day and look for it to continue through a great season," said Peter Berube, the track's vice-president and general manager.In the $60,000 Inaugural Stakes R Loyal Man was boxed through the turn found room between rivals to challenge in the final furlong to draw away by 8 ½ lengths. Sent off at odds of 3-1, R Loyal Man rewarded his backers with an $8.40 mutuel payout.The second and third place finishers set off tote board. Second place finisher Forestry Prince (45-1) returned $23.20 and $11.60 and third place Neverbeendancin' (20-1) paid $8.60 to show. Dinner Choice, finishing fourth at odds of 16-1, completed a superfecta that returned $24,472.20.R Loyal Man, a chestnut son of More Than Ready , was coming off of a win at Calder in allowance company for trainer Tim Ritvo. "He finished second in the Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs which was a Grade III race," Ritvo said from the winners' circle. "We needed to regroup and the win in Miami and this race was the perfect opportunity."Jockey Rajiv Maragh guided the chestnut colt through fractions of :22.39 and :46.18. Final time for the six-furlongs was 1:11.81. Owned by Alfred Kowalewski, Kentucky-bred R Loyal Man earned $27,000 with his winner's share of the purse and moves his record to three victories from six career starts
The day started out unsettled when in the first race Lerma Time fell and jockey Jose Lopez was transported the St Joseph Hospital in Tampa. He was later released with a broken clavicle. Lerma Time was euthanized.