OLDSMAR - Tampa Bay Downs isn't looking to set records for heat and humidity during its two-day Summer Racing Festival which begins Sunday, even though that shouldn't be a problem for the Oldsmar Oval that has been doing its racing in the winter for the last 87 years. The real reasoning behind the festival is to boost purse sizes for future years by increasing its revenue from bets taken on in-state wagering and simulcasting. By racing Sunday (June 30 is the last day of the state's 2012 fiscal year) and Monday (July 1 is the first day of the 2013 fiscal year), Tampa Bay Downs will be classified as a year-round "host track". That designation allows it to buy simulcast signals directly from out-of-state tracks that run during the summer, and keep a much larger share of revenues from wagers taken on-site at those out-of-state facilities. Previously, in order to offer simulcasting, TBD had to purchase signals from a host track (Calder Race Course) as a "guest track," and was only allowed to retain 7 percent of wagers generated according to Florida Statute 550.6305.
Half of those proceeds went to purses. As a host track, Tampa Bay Downs stands to retain a much larger share of simulcast revenue and can put all of the proceeds into purses if they so choose. A Bloodhorse.com report estimated the financial gain could approach $2 million for Tampa Bay Downs. "That may be wishful thinking," said track vice president of marketing and publicity Margo Flynn, adding that the impact will still be significant. "We're hoping to generate larger purses, which has been something our owners and trainers have been requesting for some time." Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach is taking similar action, running its own two-day meet. The negative impact will be felt at Calder, where purse sizes could drop dramatically. Flynn said Calder officials challenged the legality of the decision by Tampa Bay Downs, but because the tracks are not in the same geographic market, the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation is not expected to block the move. The only caveat to being a year-round host track will be Tampa Bay Downs continuing to run two-day meets June 30 and July 1 in future years. The logistics of putting on a two-day meet, when all of Tampa Bay Downs' regular winter trainers, jockeys and owners are in the middle of meets at Calder or up north, was a challenge. The majority of trainers with horses entered are from Ocala and welcomed a shorter hauling trip, Flynn said. To address concerns of a jockey shortage, TBD offered a $5,000 bonus in the form of a jockey contest. The only way to watch the races will be to attend live; no intertrack wagering of the TBD card will be offered. Flynn said the track expects to lose money on the race cards themselves, but will profit significantly in the long run. "At the end of the day, it will be a huge boost to our operation," Flynn said.