Tampa Bay Downs Racecourse

Tampa Bay Downs Racecourse

Tampa Bay Downs Racecourse (formerly known as the Sunshine Raceway) is a facility for thoroughbred horse racing that is found in Hillsborough County in Tampa Bay, Florida. It was originally opened in 1926, called Tampa Downs.

It has also been called Sunshine Park and the Florida Downs and Turf Club over the years. Racing takes place for a large portion of the year and there is also a simulcasting and poker facility at the track.

Ticket Prices at Tampa Bay Downs Racecourse

General admission to Tampa Bay Downs is free on most race days. For meetings on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, general admission will usually be $3. Children under the age of 12 years old will get free entry if accompanied by an adult.

Course Details

The Tampa Bay Downs Racecourse plays host to thoroughbred horse racing, with the season usually starting at the end of November and lasting until the state of May. The main track is a dirt surface and it is one mile in length and is oval-shaped.

There is also a turf track at the facility, being seven furlongs in length, along with having an inner chute that is a quarter of a mile in length. This is the only thoroughbred racing track that is found on Florida’s west coast. As well as live racing, there is also simulcasting, poker and golf at the facility.

Track History

It was in 1926 that the Tampa Bay Downs facility was initially opened, being called the Tampa Downs. Since then, there have been many twists and turns for the facility. The initial investors in the project were Ohio investor Harvey Myers and a Colonel from Kentucky Matt Winn.

During the Second World War, the track was taken over by the US Army to act as a training base. After the ending of the war, the facility was renamed as Sunshine Park, with numerous renovations taking place in the next few years, such as an electric start gate, electric tote board and photo finish.

Its popularity expanded rapidly in the 1950s, with it particularly being of interest for sports fans in the area. There was another name change in 1965, with the facility being called the Florida Downs and Turf Club. The switching to the current name came in 1980.

It was in 1983 that Arabian horse races were held at Tampa Bay Downs on occasion, with this finishing in 2003. The current owners of the facility, Stella Thayer and her sibling Howell Ferguson bought the facility at an auction in 1986.

The turf track was added to Tampa Bay Downs Racecourse in 1998. This led to it becoming one of the leading turf tracks in the entire country. The first race on this surface was in May 1998, on the same day of the Kentucky Derby. Other extensive renovations include the addition of the Tampa Bay Downs Golf Practice Facility.

Tampa Bay Downs was hitting new records for attendance purses and handle in 2007. For Kentucky Derby Day, the attendance reached 11,000 people. This was beaten the following year on Festival Day. The highest handle to date on a single day was just shy of $11 million, was set in 2011. The Silks Poker Room has been open since 2003.

Biggest Races

There are a couple of dozen race days that take place at Tampa Bay Downs every year. Of these races, six of them are graded. This includes the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, holding a purse of $400,000 and taking place in March.

The Hillsborough Stakes is another Grade II race and this takes place for older mares and fillies. The Grade III events include the Sam F. Davies Stakes in February, the Florida Oaks, the Tampa Bay Stakes and the Lambholm South Endeavor Stakes.

The main showcase each year is Festival Day. This is when the Tampa Bay Derby takes place for three-year-olds, with the Hillsborough Stakes, Florida Oaks and Columbia Stakes all taking place on this day of racing.

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