Tampa Bay Downs had live racing on Sunday December 26th, the day after Christmas.
That’s welcome news for families, tourists and bettors seeking to enjoy an exciting weekend afternoon of Thoroughbred action or just soak up sunshine and atmosphere at the Florida track.
While a Sunday spent handicapping by the rail and watching kids toss Frisbees in the Backyard Picnic Area seems commonplace, it wasn’t always so.
The first Sunday card in Tampa Bay Downs history took place on December 7th, 1986, and there was no way to predict how it would be received by the public.
Sunday racing became a reality after the state legislature decided to move Florida into step with more progressive provinces.
At least one thing seemed to be working in the track’s favor that day in 1986: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were playing in Chicago, and you had to be a diehard, masochistic fan to stay home and watch the Bucs get blasted 48-14 by the defending Super Bowl Champion Bears
The history-making event would draw lots of media attention. Reporters from the St. Petersburg Times, the Tampa Tribune and the Clearwater Sun all showed up to document the proceedings.
What they witnessed exceeded the expectations of even the most optimistic observers. The turnstiles kept clicking throughout the day, with attendance of 5,893 surpassing the Opening Day crowd of 5,396 four days earlier.
The total wagering handle was $496,680 (this was before the simulcasting era), and youthful faces made up a larger-than-usual portion of the crowd (minors were not legally allowed inside Tampa Bay Downs until two seasons later).
These days, calling it an experiment seems silly, but 35 years ago it was a Big Deal, and an avenue to so many of the positive changes that have taken place at Tampa Bay Downs in ensuing years.
Tampa Bay Downs features live racing on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, AND Sunday, now thru the first week of May.
The tracks feature event, the Tampa Bay Derby (worth 50 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby) is Saturday, March 12th.