Tampa Bay Downs announced Nov. 18 that it has formulated plans to permit spectators amid COVID-19 for its 2020-21 meet that begins Nov. 25. Fans have been allowed for on-track simulcasting since July 2 and in its Silks Poker Room since mid-June.

The track raced without spectators last season from March 17 through the annual two-day Summer Festival of Racing, generating income and purses for horsemen and horsewomen through account wagering.

For the foreseeable future, fans will be required to wear masks both inside and outside the facility, unless they are eating or drinking.

Various measures have been established to ensure social distancing, including:

  • The creation of more outdoor, private spaces for small groups
  • A limited number of benches on the apron of the grandstand, with increased spacing
  • Computer-generated, advance-purchase socially distanced grandstand seating available at $5 a seat. 
  • A reduction in box seating, from eight to six seats per box

Tampa Bay Downs has also implemented rules to protect jockeys. Riders, jockey room staff, and starting gate personnel will undergo rapid COVID-19 testing prior to their arrival, with twice-weekly testing thereafter. No newcomers will be allowed without a negative test, and jockeys will be restricted to their designated areas on race days and required to leave the room following their last ride of the day.

Other elements of the track’s COVID-19 protocol include increasing the number of hand-sanitizing stations throughout the facility, ongoing cleaning, and glass partitions between staff and patrons.

Those changes, and many others, are designed to provide patrons with a high level of comfort and security when they arrive for an afternoon of Thoroughbred racing during the track’s 95th anniversary season.

“We understand that many of our patrons would like to see a return to pre-Coronavirus status, while many others are concerned about venturing outside their homes while the pandemic continues to pose a threat,” said Peter Berube, the track’s vice president and general manager. “We believe it is important to listen to and respect all viewpoints, but our biggest duty is doing everything possible to keep our customers and employees healthy. Without fans at the track, racing loses some of its excitement and charm, and our on-track business suffers.”

The 90-day meeting proper runs through May 2, followed by the annual Summer Festival of Racing on June 30 and July 1. Tampa Bay Downs will race most Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, adding Sundays starting Dec. 20 and also racing Thursday, Dec. 24.

The stakes schedule remains virtually the same as last season. The 41st annual $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2), a showcase for Triple Crown prospects, will be held March 6 as part of a blockbuster day that features four graded races and total stakes purses of $1-million. Another meet highlight comes Feb. 6 with the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds.

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