tampabay.com

Downs closes season with flair

Street Sense became the first Downs runner to win the Kentucky Derby. Jockey Daniel Centeno set a meet win record by capturing his first career riding title. And plenty was wagered on the Oldsmar facility's product.

By DON JENSEN
Published May 7, 2007


OLDSMAR - It made sense to be at Tampa Bay Downs this season.

Street Sense became the first Downs runner to win the Kentucky Derby. Jockey Daniel Centeno set a meet win record by capturing his first career riding title. And plenty was wagered on the Oldsmar facility's product.

As the Downs wrapped its 2006-07 campaign and 81st season of live thoroughbred racing Sunday, track vice president and general manager Peter Berube said the 94-day meet was another one for the record books with more than $385-million wagered on the Downs product.

"We will be up over 5 percent on our live signal, " Berube said. "I think it has to do with finding your niche in the market and really trying to fill the void."

Final statistics will be available this week. Berube said total handle will be up $19-million over last year with a daily average handle at $4.1-million. A total of $15-million in purse money was distributed, a daily average of $160, 000. A record number of horses also were claimed at 333. An all-time high crowd of 11, 014 watched Grade III Tampa Bay Derby winner Street Sense capture the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

Declines came in total attendance (2 percent with 6, 000 fewer fans), total races (down 12) and average fields (8.9 horses compared with 9.6 last year). Inclement weather forced races off the turf on 17 days.

Berube said $1-million has been earmarked for improvements next year with another horse ambulance and quarantine barn heading the list. Talks have begun about possible expansion and relocation of the Downs card room from 22 to 30 tables. Legislation allowing poker rooms to be operational on a year-round basis beginning July 1 has passed the state's Senate and House, awaiting Gov. Charlie Christ's approval.

Allison De Luca is expected to return as racing secretary.

Individual leaders were: Centeno (125 victories and $1, 667, 752 purse earnings, both records), apprentice rider Sally Mitchellhill (18 wins), trainer Jamie Ness (38 victories) and owner Montesano Racing (17 wins).