Once you come to Tampa Bay Downs, we expect you will return,” said Stella F. Thayer, president and treasurer of the Oldsmar, Fla., track. Horsemen and fans have been doing that this decade, in person and through a big increase in off-site wagering, as Tampa Bay Downs has improved its racing program while keeping the look and feel of a traditional racetrack.
“We have always focused on presenting good-quality racing and on maintaining our standards of integrity,” Thayer said. She and her brother Howell Ferguson, the track’s vice president and secretary, have owned Tampa Bay Downs since 1986.
“We have upgraded the program every year, and we are optimistic about this year,”
Thayer said of the racing season that begins Dec. 13. The 2008-2009 meet will run through May 3, with 94 live racing days. It will be the 83rd season for the track that is located near the northeast corner of Tampa Bay. Track officials expect total purses will be about $16 million, compared with its record $15.7 million in 2007-2008. The highlight will be the annual March 14 Festival day, which features the $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) at 11∕16 miles for 3-year-olds. The race is one of five graded stakes, all grade III, at Tampa Bay Downs. Recent Tampa Bay Derbys have attracted leading contenders on the trail for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
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