As Tampa Bay Racing Grows, So Does Handle

Tampa Bay Downs racing is growing in popularity as evidenced by a 22% increase in total handle during the 93-day that ended May 4. Total handle of $237,158,919 was up about $44 million from the 2001-2002 season.

Total daily average handle on the Oldsmar, Fla., track's races was a record $2,550,096. Total on-track handle, which includes simulcasts, was up 2.11% to a record $54,344,700.

Average daily on-track handle on live racing was down 4.1% to $243,181 from $253,767.

Total attendance declined 4.5%, in part because opening weekend last December was flooded out. Average daily attendance was 3,151, compared with 3,291 for the 2001-2002 season.

"Much of the success is attributable to the direction of the program we have here at the Downs, and the simulcast public recognizing that and embracing it," Tampa Bay general manager Peter Berube said. "We're looking for a good balance in our program between strong overnight races coupled with a solid stakes schedule integrating turf racing into the mix of both of those as much as possible.

"Turf racing is extremely popular, and has helped us get noticed around the nation. Combine that with our large field sizes (9.29 starters per race), and you're giving the simulcast customer a great product."

Total purse distribution of $11,961,620 and daily average purses of $128,620 were both records.

One of the highlights of the meet was the new Florida Cup Day, which debuted April 6. Six $75,000 stakes for Florida-breds were offered because of a partnership between Tampa Bay Downs, the Tampa Bay Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association. Each contributes $150,000 to fund the event.

"I think it exceeded expectations," Tampa Bay HBPA president Bob Jeffries said. "It was a great success that was good for Tampa's local horsemen as well as Florida horsemen in general."

Don Rice earned his seventh Tampa Bay training title with 43 wins, just one shy of the record 44 he tallied last season. Joe Judice was the leading jockey with 117 victories.