Going to a horse racing track can be intimidating if you're not familiar, but you don't have to be a steady bettor or a handicapper to enjoy the races at Tampa Bay Downs.
In fact, you don't have to know much about horse racing to have a good time.
There's fun for the entire family to enjoy on the track's Opening Day this Saturday (Nov. 25). Come out and enjoy the scenic view of a pond surrounded by palm trees and an evergreen turf and dirt track. Visitors find a laid-back ambience in the picnic area pavilion where kids can play and run around between races. Families can get up close and personal to pet Mouse the Miniature Horse, the track mascot, and take pictures as well.
There is plenty of good food whether you're in the mood for nachos or hot dogs from the concession areas, or a three-course meal from the various breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurants throughout the facility. You can get away from the dirt for a while and head next door to play golf where adults can still place bets and view the races.
Tampa Bay Downs prides itself on its fan-friendly atmosphere. Fans can view the horses in the barn, and get a closer look at the action trackside right as the gun goes off and after the race to high-five the trainers and jockeys that ride the horses. And for adults there is also a poker room and a clubhouse for simulcast viewing of other races around the world that you also can place a bet.
"It's a great afternoon of entertainment for minimal cost," said vice president of publicity and marketing Margo Flynn. "You get to enjoy the pageantry of the horses racing and the beautiful weather that Florida has to offer this time of year."
"It's a great experience to take you out into the country and a new experience for a lot of people that I think they thoroughly enjoy when they see it."
Opening Day's first race begins at 12:25 p.m. The gates open at 11 a.m. to the public with free parking, and admission is free for children under 12 accompanied by an adult, and only $3 for everyone else. The track is located at 11225 Race Track Road.
Last year the track welcomed 4,010 people on opening day and this year they expect nothing less. Tampa Bay Downs track is known as a melting pot for horses of various breeds and the consistent, nice weather especially attracts trainers and owners during the racing season.
The last four weeks proved busy with horses starting to arrive on Oct 30 from all over the country in preparation for the big day. Nov. 6 marked the first day officials allowed horses on the track for training. They expect horses to fill all 1,250 stalls by the end of this month.
"There's been a lot of anticipation leading up to it," publicity assistant Mike Henry said. "It's been almost five months since we ran."
Opening Day is only the beginning of family fun activities to come this 2017-2018 season. On Sundays, February 11 and 25 and March 4 and 18, there will be pony rides, bounce houses, slides, carnival games, and more for the family.
To add to the excitement, Tampa Bay Downs has surpassed last season's record of 24 stake races just under $3 million in purse money with 28 stake races on the schedule totaling $3.65 million in purses this season. It's the Oldsmar track's richest stakes schedule in 92 years. They have also upgraded to a new large HD screen in the infield for better viewing of the races.
"People are just raving about it because the picture is that much sharper and that much clearer," Henry said. "It's just sharp as a bell and it's really nice. That's going to enhance the fan experience quite a great deal."
For the true horse racing lovers, the first big stakes day is Dec 16 with four stakes: The Inaugural Stakes, The Sandpiper Stakes, The FTBOA Marion County Florida Sire Stakes and the FTBOA City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes — all totaling $450,000 in purse money.
That same day, Tampa Bay Downs will host a brunch sponsored by EG Vodka with a full breakfast buffet, and complimentary admission and a racing program.
There also will be a seminar on how to get into horse racing for those that are interested in becoming a handicapper. Another big day bettors don't want to miss this season is Festival Day on March 10 where there are five stakes totaling $1 million in purse money.
Contact Monique Welch at [email protected]