"Everyone wants to get running" at Tampa Bay Downs, top trainer Gerald Bennett said, and that is what will begin happening Wednesday.
The track at suburban Oldsmar, Fla., will host races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday schedule before Sundays are added to the mix Dec. 20. The track will race Thursday, Dec. 24, and be closed on Christmas.
Spectators, masked and socially distanced, will be allowed at the track for the first time since March 15.
The meet will continue through May 2 — with one more day on June 30 for next year's Summer Festival. The track's 2019-20 meet was extended through June 24 (plus the June 30 Summer Festival card) to ease the financial hardship caused by the pandemic.
The leading graded stakes on the calendar is the March 6 Tampa Bay Derby (G2), where bettors might have become acquainted with 49-1 winner King Guillermo last year. It offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 basis.
The Tampa Bay Derby is one of seven graded stakes during the meet. The Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) on Feb. 6 offers is a 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby points prep, and the Sun Coast on Feb. 6 offers Kentucky Oaks points on a 10-4-2-1 basis.
Wednesday’s feature race is the Happy Thanksgiving Purse, an allowance optional claiming event carded as the eighth race. A field of nine colts and geldings will sprint 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track. The 3-1 morning-line favorite is 3-year-old colt Hauntedbythemusic, trained by Baltazar Galvan, with Samy Camacho named to ride.
Bennett has won five consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training titles and six overall. For the 2019-20 meet he had earnings of $786,135 from a record of 274:61-49-44. Kathleen O'Connell came in second with $472,215 in earnings on a record of 189:33-17-24.
The top jockey of 2019-20 was Antonio Gallardo, a five-time title holder who dethroned six-time riding champion Daniel Centeno. With 535 starts, Gallardo had a record of 535:122-84-70 and earnings of $1,626,842. Centeno came in second with 99 wins, and Samy Camacho was third with 96, including the Tampa Bay Derby trip aboard King Guillermo.
Goldophin was the leading owner last season with 20 wins in 79 starts.
Multiple-race wagers for the meet will consist of a rolling Daily Double, Pick-3, Pick-4, Pick-5 and Ultimate 6, in which there must be only one correct ticket to collect the entire jackpot.