Tampa Bay Downs Open for Festival of Racing
Friday, June 30, 2023
    OLDSMAR - Racing fans can get their Fourth of July weekend off to an exciting start by attending the 11th annual of Summer Festival Racing at Tampa Bay Downs today and Saturday.  

    Both cards consist of eight races, with six on the track’s vaunted turf course today and five on the turf Saturday. Post time for the first race both days is 11:30 a.m. 

    Admission is free and, as always, fans will be able to wager on simulcast racing action from around the nation in addition to the Tampa Bay Downs races. On Saturday, the track will host its inaugural “Paddock Pitmasters” competition, with ticket-holders for the event invited to judge the offerings of many of the area’s leading barbecue chefs serving delicious brisket, chicken, pulled pork and rib plates. 

    Tickets for Saturday’s “Paddock Pitmasters” offerings are $25 ($10 for children 12-and-under) and are available online at www.eventbrite.com or on Saturday in the Grandstand Cabanas area, where the barbecue will be served. Customer voting will determine the “People’s Choice Award,” the “Grand Champion” and other winners, who will receive trophies and cash prizes.  

    On the racetrack, riders will compete throughout the two days in the $5,000 Jockeys’ Challenge, with the winner receiving $2,500, the runner-up earning $1,500 and the third-place finisher collecting $1,000. Ademar Santos will be vying for his fifth Jockeys’ Challenge title, but is named to ride only nine races, putting him at a distinct disadvantage against those jockeys with 10 or more assignments since the competition is a cumulative points affair, with 8 points awarded to the winner of each race, 7 for second, 6 for third and down to 1 for eighth. 

    The “post-time favorite” is Marcos Meneses, whose 45 victories at last season’s meet – good for sixth place – were the most of any Jockeys’ Challenge participant. Meneses, who is based at Gulfstream Park, competed in the Belmont Stakes on June 10, riding Il Miracolo to a seventh-place finish. 

    Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-90s both days, and spectators are urged to keep themselves well-hydrated throughout. Some relief is expected by midday Saturday, but track officials are stressing thorough preparation for the unseasonable weather. Trainers, jockeys and handlers will be on full alert for signs of heat stress among their horses. 

    The Summer Festival of Racing originated in 2013 as a means to give Tampa Bay Downs greater control over its summer simulcast revenue. For record-keeping purposes, today’s card counts as the final day of the 2022-2023 meet, with Saturday’s races comprising the first day of the 2023-2024 season. 

    Tampa Bay Downs plans to then resume its 98th anniversary season on Wednesday, Nov. 22. 
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