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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


April 23, 2020, 5:01 pm: Today Tampa Bay Downs received permission to extend their meeting through May 30. The meet was scheduled to end Sunday, May 3.

The new schedule calls for racing three days per week beginning May 6. Racing days will be every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.


Tampa Bay Downs vice president and general manager Peter Berube, quoted in the Thoroughbred Daily News, said he will not comment on

whether the Oldsmar track, enjoying a successful season that extends beyond bottom line, will have the current race meet extended.

But the track’s overnight entry sheet said it all: “Attention Horsemen: We are seriously considering extending the meet.”

Berube went on to explain that he didn’t want his words to interfere with the political process, before getting needed approval from the state which he said he expects very soon.

It’s a wise decision not to comment, not only philosophically wise from a business perspective but practical but because the dates that he would request are already there for the taking if Tampa wanted them.

A number of years ago, the track requested and received permission to race one day during the summer in order to maintain by law a year-round simulcasting license on track during their off season. That date is June 30.

So, technically, the dates are there for the asking. The only thing needed is the proverbial rubber stamp approving an “extension” of the current season, from its scheduled closing, May, 3 through June 30. Tampa is one of five tracks still operational during the pandemic.

The problem obviously would be having enough horses and horsemen to do so.

There are two significant feeders into Tampa’s successful program, many stakeholders wintering in North Florida race on the New Jersey and Finger Lakes circuits. This year a handful of horses racing in Oldsmar have come from as far as Minnesota.

The state of racing, whether now or in the future, is similar to that of real world events; uncertain (although it is comforting to know that tomorrow I can drive across the state line into Georgia and get my hair cut, and none to soon. It’s been so unmanageable, especially this past week).

Anyway, the current live meet in Tampa is scheduled to close on May 3. It is one of only five tracks in the country and Canada still operating.

Horsemen who have not yet returned to home base from their winter base–a handful already have–are capable of putting on a show given the track’s four-day per week schedule. Some days Tampa has gone to eight-race program in maintain the integrity of their large-fields reputation.

Tampa has gotten lots of support from younger, ready-to-run horses from the barns of Christophe Clement, Shug McGaughey, Graham Motion, Jonathan Thomas, Todd Pletcher and, to a lesser degree, Chad Brown.

Presumably, “New York” outfits will remain in South and Central Florida unless Belmont Park opens May 22. That date has been requested in letters from the New York Racing Association and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to the New York State Gaming Commission.

Tampa has strict protocols to help prevent the spread of the virus and have reported no positive findings for COVID-19 among its backstretch colony. Jockeys from other venues are not allowed to ship in and horses must show a recent work in the state of Florida.

The announcement on the track’s overnight explains that horsemen must adhere to strict pandemic protocols, including handlers wearing masks and gloves, and that only two people per horse, which includes the trainer, will be allowed in the paddock at any one time.

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6 Responses

  1. JP,
    You must not have made the drive north as often as I have. From Plantation to the Georgia border, it’s about 350 miles. I’ve stopped at a Waffle House right on the other side of the Florida-Georgia line (the border, not the great C&W group) and I’ve never noticed a barber shop there.

    If you really need a haircut that badly there’s a very accomplished former salon owner in my building. It’s 300 miles closer.

  2. That was my sad attempt to add a little levity to the heavy air these days, although an extension of racing at Tampa Bay Downs would be much welcomed.

    Except for the glamour races, don’t much care for how races develop at Oaklawn as hard as I try to improve my methods. In addition to Gulfstream, can only handle one more track these days.

    Tampa Bay racing I find a lot more formful, even in the lower classes. Of course they have their share of implausible longshots but doesn’t everyone?

    On the other matter, I think I’ll have Toni take a little off the top and around the edges, although I’m not sure why I bother. At Publix and CVS, beneath the mask, gloves and my Pagasus hat, I’m unrecognizable anyway. But thanks for the offer, will keep it in mind…

  3. Funny, part of my column tomorrow chides Oaklawn for not following the lead of Tampa and even Fonner Park.

    In a perverse way, it would be another manifestation of “Never let a crisis go to waste.”

  4. Just updated this post, Tampa got their approval this afternoon; three days per week, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, through May 30…

  5. JP,
    May 3 is a Sunday, but they won’t be racing on Sundays during the extended meet. Did they say why?

  6. Those were the dates they requested and I’m sure they have their reasons.

    But, no, I didn’t ask, only asked about the chance of racing until JUN 30, which they had a right to.

    I can only figure that horsemen from the north wanted to get home but would stay to the end of the month but…etc.

    And if there’s racing in NY and KY by May’s end…

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