Former Tampa Bay Downs GM King Dies

Was at helm in 1990 when track became first in Florida to accept simulcast signal.

Former Tampa Bay Downs general manager Lorraine M. King died May 31 in Palm Harbor, Fla.

King was promoted soon after current owner Stella F. Thayer and her brother, Howell Ferguson, purchased the track at auction shortly before the start of the 1986-87 meeting.

King was at the helm in 1990 when Tampa Bay Downs became the first track in Florida to accept a simulcast signal, from Calder Race Course. The move enabled Tampa Bay Downs to remain open on a year-round basis and fueled the growth of the track's current stakes program, which includes two grade II stakes and four grade III events.

A native of Hartford, Conn., and a former horse owner, King started at Tampa Bay Downs (then Florida Downs) in 1970 as office manager.

She was promoted to vice president and administrative assistant in 1974 by track president Sam F. Davis. In that capacity, she performed many of the duties of general manager, including the hiring of a little-known announcer from Cahokia Downs named Tom Durkin to take over race-calling duties. Durkin went on to become one of the nation's greatest race callers before retiring in 2014.

King left the track for a short time after getting married in 1979. At the request of Thayer, then an ownership partner, she returned to Tampa Bay Downs as controller in 1981. King held that position for five years before being named general manager. Prior to that, she was instrumental in the hiring of the track's current announcer, Richard Grunder.

Under King's stewardship, Tampa Bay Downs introduced Sunday racing, which was an immediate hit with the 5,893 fans who attended the first Sunday card in December of 1986. The Florida legislature permitted children to attend the races two years later, another change heartily embraced by King.

A visible presence throughout the facility during her five years as general manager, King always had time to welcome a suggestion or commiserate with bettors who lost a tough photo finish. She instituted the track's popular "Also-Ran" contest, in which any fan picking a horse that finished out of the money in a race won a season pass.

"This is for people who say they never win at the track," she said at the time.

King was promoted to vice president of administration at the outset of the 1991-92 meeting. She served in that role for the next 20 seasons.

King's husband, Edward T. King, preceded her in death in 1984.

Remembrance donations can be made to Suncoast Hospice, 5771 Roosevelt Blvd., #300, Clearwater, FL 33760, or the Suncoast Animal League, 1020 Pennsylvania Ave., Palm Harbor, FL 34683.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.