Of course, the one weekend when this winter in Chicago finally felt like winter, I had flown south. It was for good reason, though, despite my preference for the cold. I visited Tampa Bay from Thursday, February 11 through Sunday, February 14, and spent most of my waking hours at Tampa Bay Downs. The main event was Lovely Loyree’s graded stakes debut in the Endeavour. But, from start to finish, it was a great chance to see friends, see horses, and enjoy a track I had never visited.
Thursday, my first day in Tampa, was rather quiet. It was a dark day at the track, so I spent a bit of time getting settled in at my hotel. Still, the lure of the track was too strong, even on a dark day, so I spent the afternoon there watching simulcast and writing.
The next morning, I got to the track early for morning workouts.
In addition to morning workouts, the mornings also involved lots of hanging out in the barn with Michele, Margaret, and the horses.
Then, it was off to the races.
The next day was Saturday: the big day, Endeavour day, Lovely Loyree’s graded stakes debut. Loyree was full of energy, and knew it was race day, but was her usual self with regards to begging for mints and pets.
Of course, we did not forget about her stablemates Saturday morning, either.
Although not a stakes race, one of the earlier races on the card was a solid prep handicap for the Challenger Stakes later in the meet. I was excited to finally see the pale grey Mr. Jordan in person, as he was someone I had been fawning over for a long time.
The first stakes race of the day was the Sam F. Davis (GIII): the local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby.
Before the stakes races resumed, one of Michele’s horses ran in an allowance. Penelope Perfect was in a bit of a tough spot, but she (and her epic forelock) did the best she could.
Soon, it was time for the Endeavour. So many eyes were on Tepin, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile winner. But…for me, it was Lovely Loyree time. I was thrilled to see her get a chance against tougher company, and hoped she would make good account of herself.
After striking the front and setting a measured pace, Lovely Loyree dug in gamely when the rest of the field ran at her. Tepin won by daylight, and Lady Lara got past her half a length, but Loyree held third as the longest shot on the board.
Of course, I was too busy celebrating Loyree’s third-place finish in the Endeavour that I did not get any pictures of the runners in the next race, the Suncoast. Fortunately, my celebration of the Endeavour did not stop me from betting that race: my top two choices, 13/1 Weep No More and 10/1 Valueable Charmer, finished 1-2. The Suncoast has thus cemented itself as one of my favourite races of the year, since last year I was all over Include Betty at 19/1.
Sunday morning, I returned to the barn bright and early.
Lovely Loyree came out of her race well, and was quite full of herself the next morning.
Penelope Perfect also came out of her race well — and, for once, would actually let me take pictures of her.
In addition to racehorses — on Sunday, I finally met Mouse, the pony mascot of Tampa Bay Downs. I had heard from a reliable source that she liked snow cones, although it turned out that her snow cone eating phase had passed her by. She was still adorable, though.
Of course, there were Thoroughbreds as well as ponies at Tampa Bay Downs on Sunday.
Michele had one horse running on Sunday: Peso. Though he finished fifth, he was beaten just three lengths, and should be sharper second time off his layoff.
Finally, my visit to Tampa Bay Downs had to come to an end.