Tampa Bay Downs is celebrating its 94th year with a stakes schedule that is guaranteed to be exciting from start to finish!

The first four races of the stakes season will be Saturday, December 7, with the Inaugural Stakes and the Sandpiper Stakes, followed by the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, Marion County Florida Sire Stakes and the FTBOA City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes on Saturday, December 14. 

The Inaugural Stakes is for 2-year-old colts and geldings at a distance of 6 furlongs. The race has a $100,000 guaranteed purse.

The Sandpiper Stakes is for two-year-old fillies. Like the Inaugural Stakes, this race is six furlongs with $100,000 guaranteed.

The FTBOA Marion County Florida Sire Stakes is for three-year-old males, both colts and geldings, and the FTBOA City of Ocala Florida Sire Stakes is for three-year-old fillies. Both races are seven furlongs (7/8 mile) and have a $125,000 guaranteed purse.


Placing a bet is easy. It’s parting with the money that’s tough. “It can be intimidating to a lot of folks; it’s their money,” said Mike Henry, Tampa Bay Downs publicity assistant.

The track offers many wagering options on a given race. You can bet win, place, and show. With the win, the horse has got to win; place, the horse must finish first or second; show is first, second, or third.

Feeling lucky? Place an exotic bet. Generally, exotic bets (exacta, trifecta, superfecta) are harder to pick, but they pay the best odds and yield a bigger win. What will likely pay the most is something that has to be determined on a race-by-race basis.

Tampa Bay Downs added another exotic bet to keep things interesting: The Ultimate 6. This bet requires you to pick the winner of six successive races.

Henry recommends for somebody starting out that they stick at the beginning to win, place, and show because the other bets can get a little complicated.

What to Look For

Race-goers will have an opportunity to get a good look at the horses once they’re led from their barns to the saddling area. “They will want to look to see which horses look sharp, see which horses look particularly alert,” said Henry. “The saying goes, Gee, that horse really looks like it's on the muscle today. It’s got its mind focused on racing. You can tell a lot by a horse's body language; the way it stands, the way it's moving.”

The jockeys and trainers then share some last-minute words, and the horses will go out on the track for what is called the post parade. Just like any athlete would before an event, the horses must get warmed up. “They might break off and do a jog or a little gallop to limber up and loosen up and make sure they're ready,” said Henry. 

Bets are placed during or after this process. For odds, spectators can use the race program as a reference, but they aren’t set in stone.

“The odds are determined by the wagers, so the odds fluctuate. Your horse may be 5-1 in the program, but if a lot of people aren't betting on your horse, your horse may be 8-1 or 10-1 before the race,” Henry explained.

And They’re Off

All this time, this anticipation is building. The jockeys are doing everything they can to get in tune with their horse as people place their last-minute bets. “It just keeps building up to a crescendo until the horses are in the gate, and that gate opens,” he said.

“That's an exciting moment; it starts the energy. It's a tremendous vicarious thrill for a lot of people. Even more thrilling if your horse happens to end up winning.”

When the latch springs open, it’s any horse’s game. Sometimes they’re neck-and-neck until the final furlong. Sometimes a horse comes out of the gate like its mane is on fire but can’t sustain their speed. Sometimes the last horse at the start is the first horse at the finish.

Those horses aren’t the only things racing at the track. “Those heart palpitations can get really high,” said Henry. “As soon as a gate opens, man, you're in the game, you've got a shot, and you're rooting like crazy.”

Nominated Horses

Nominees for The Inaugural Stakes and The Sandpiper Stakes were announced on Sunday. “We had some very nice nominations. For the Inaugural, we have a horse [Another Miracle] nominated that finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint," in the Henry shared. “For the Sandpiper, we have a couple of fillies [Ceci Valentina, Fast Scene] nominated that have already won two stakes races in their careers. We’re tickled to death.”

These horses, however, may have to neigh, It was an honor just being nominated, as their past doesn’t necessarily predict their future. These nominees will be whittled down to 14 entries. Final entries are available now for viewing.  

Tampa Bay Downs’ stakes season is 26 races long. The 2019-2020 schedule has been posted or you can call the track at 813.855.4401 for more information. Tampa Bay Downs is located at 11225 Race Track Road in Tampa. 

Cover photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Downs Facebook