Tampa Bay Downs became the latest American racetrack to extend its meet after Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering officials approved the track’s application for an extension to May 30.
The track’s original closing date was May 3. After that date, Tampa Bay Downs will shift from a four-day schedule of Wednesday and Friday-through-Sunday to a three-day schedule. The new extended schedule will see racing on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. That adds an extra 12 days of racing.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Tampa Bay Downs remains one of four US racetracks running thoroughbred racing deep into May. It is the second track in three days to receive an extension. On Wednesday, Fonner Park in Nebraska announced it would run past its original April 29 closing date until May 27.
Of the other tracks currently running, Will Rogers Park in Oklahoma will close on May 20, and Tampa Bay Downs’ cross-state competitor, Gulfstream Park, will race until Sept. 27. Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park earlier announced it won’t seek an extension, and will end its meet on May 2.
Northern Tracks Closing Creates Stable Demand
What made the decision to grant the extension easier is the closing of northern tracks, such as Kentucky’s Keeneland and Churchill Downs, New York’s Aqueduct and Belmont Park, and Maryland’s Laurel Park and Pimlico. Normally at this time, horsemen begin migrating north for late spring and summer meets. But track closures and stable delays have taken those options off the table.
Earlier this week, Churchill Downs announced it is delaying the opening of its stables until May 5. That followed an earlier delay until April 28. That, in turn, followed an original opening date of March 17.
“It was a pretty easy decision once we realized the horse inventory on the backside was going to remain fairly constant through the month of May,” Tampa Bay Downs Vice President and General Manager Peter Berube told Bloodhorse. “If all of a sudden the horse population declines, we have the ability to go back to the state and drop these dates. But I don’t anticipate that happening.”
Tampa Bay Downs has raced without spectators since March 18. Because of a legal quirk, the track scheduled two days of summer racing on June 30 and July 1. While those dates cater primarily to locals, under state law, it also provides the track valuable status as a year-round facility.
With that status, Tampa Bay Downs can import simulcasts all year.