Tampa Bay Downs $4,230,056
Santa Anita $4,038,175
A few years ago it would have been unimaginable that Tampa could handle more money than mighty Santa Anita. The numbers underscore Tampa astonishing success in the simulcasting marketplace. Tampa regularly beats high-level competitors such as Oaklawn Park and the Fairgrounds. Buoyed by greater exposure in California and on the TVG network, its wagering totals are up five percent this year, to $4.28 million a day, at a time when most tracks' business is in decline.
Tampa's visibility has been boosted by the growing importance of the Tampa Bay Derby and other stakes. Its prestige has been enhanced, too, by the fact that its turf course lures horses from high-class stables at Gulfstream Park, such as those of Bill Mott and Christophe Clement. But many of Tampa's races are cheap claiming events, and bettors relish them, too, because the fields are large and competitive and the payoffs frequently astronomical.
Other tracks run low-level claimers with large fields, too, but General Manager Peter Berube thinks Tampa is uniquely popular because it doesn't card races limited to state-breds (which tend to draw the same old cast of characters) and it attracts stables from tracks throughout the East.
"Bettors find our races a challenge, and they can find a lot of value in them," Berube said.
I love the everyday racing for these reasons, and I devote more effort to betting at Tampa than any other track in the U.S. Nowhere else does a studious handicapper have a better chance to unearth long-priced horses with a plausible chance to win. At the same time I am distressed by some of the track's shortcomings, and I worry that they could undermine its great success story.
One development this winter would be a disgrace if it occurred at a rinky-dink track, let alone an operation doing $4.28 million a day in business. Since Jan. 22 the electric timer - the source of the most vital information for handicappers - has been malfunctioning frequently. Impossible times go up on the tote board and then are erased, and a clocker's hand-timed numbers, which may not be accurate, are eventually substituted.
"I'm embarrassed about it," Berube said. He explained that the Teleview Racing Patrol, which is responsible for the timer, switched to a different system this year; in the wake of the misfires, they rewired the system last week, but the errors didn't end.