Tampa Bay Downs opened in 1926 in Oldsmar, Florida and while the track has undergone several name changes and renovations over the years, it has continually been one of the most popular racetracks in Florida for fans and horsemen alike. The track has a one mile dirt oval and a seven-furlong turf course – the turf course was an addition in 1998 and is regarded as one of the best turf courses in North America.
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs begins in November and runs typically until the first weekend in May. The track continues to thrive with large fields, competitive races and a low takeout structure which makes it appealing to bettors.
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Tampa Bay Downs Racing Tips
Tampa Bay Downs is the host to several graded stakes races throughout their season that routinely attract some of the best horses, trainers and jockeys in the country. In addition to the graded stakes races, they have frequent non-graded stakes races that serve as stepping stones for quality horses rising up the ranks.
Tampa Bay Derby
The Tampa Bay Derby is the premier event at Tampa Bay Downs and has developed into a serious prep race for the Kentucky Derby. Inaugurated in 1981, the race is contested at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track and is a Grade 2 event with a purse of $350,000.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has the record for the most wins as a trainer with four – Limehouse (2004), Verrazao (2013), Carpe Diem (2015) and Destin (2016). Destin also set the stakes record by stopping the clock in 1:42.82. It was also a new track record for the distance.
In 2007, Street Sense made history and became the first horse to win both the Tampa Bay Derby and the Kentucky Derby.
The Florida Oaks was run for the first time in 1984 and was originally contested on the dirt as a prep race for the Kentucky Oaks. The race switched over to the turf in 2011 and currently holds Grade 3 status and a purse of $200,000.
Trainers Bill Mott and Neil Howard have each saddled three winners. Mott sent out Ebony Breeze (2003), Tapitcat (2013) and Quality Rocks (2015) to win while Howard has won with Sneaky Quiet (1995), Secret Status (2000) and Quick Tip (2001). Secret Status went on to win the Kentucky Oaks that year.
The Endeavour Stakes is run at a mile and a sixteenth on the turf and was inaugurated in 2000. Though the race has a relatively short history, there has been no shortage of star power to compete in the Grade 3 event. The purse is currently $150,000 and the race is typically held in late January or early February.
Among the champions that have won the race include Breeders’ Cup winners Dreaming of Anna (2008), Zagora (2012) and Tepin (2016). Tepin used the Endeavour Stakes as her first start of the year in 2016 after winning the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2015 and she went on to win graded stakes races in three separate countries before finishing second in the Mile.
The Hillsborough Stakes is another graded stakes race on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs for fillies and mares. The Grade 2 race is held over a mile and an eighth and has a purse of $200,000. Typically, the race is run in early March.
Like the Endeavour Stakes, this race has had no shortage of quality horses since the first running in 1999. Trainer Todd Pletcher has saddled four winners – Ready’s Gal (2006), Cassydora (2007), Phola (2010) and Old Tune (2013). John Velazquez has ridden three winners – Ready’s Gal and Cassydora as well as Stephanie’s Kitten in 2015.
Sam F. Davis Stakes
The Sam F. Davis Stakes serves as a prep race for the Tampa Bay Derby and has traditionally attracted a competitive mix of both national and local talent. It holds Grade 3 status and is held at the distance of a mile and a sixteenth with a purse of $250,000. Six horses have won the Sam F. Davis Stakes and have gone on to win the Tampa Bay Derby – Phantom Jet (1987), Speedy Cure (1991), Marco Bay (1993), Thundering Storm (1996), Burning Roma (2001) and Destin (2016).
Trainer Todd Pletcher has dominated this race in recent years and has saddled six winners – Bluegrass Cat (2006), Any Given Saturday (2007), Rule (2010), Brethren (2011), Vinceremos (2014) and Destin (2016).
The stakes record is held by General Quarters, the winner of the 2009 renewal who stopped the clock in 1:43.54.