The first word that comes to mind when describing Tampa Bay Downs is friendly. I got that feeling when I visited the track last year. Strangers would come up to me to talk horses, and by the end of the weekend, I felt comfortable striking up some equine small talk with whoever happened to be next to me at the rail.
I returned to Tampa Bay Downs this week, and it took no time to confirm that this friendly spirit still fills the track. After all, if you lose your ticket, there’s no place you’re more likely to get it back than this one.
Just before Thursday’s second race, I headed to the paddock. I came to look at the horses, and lingered long after the post parade went off because classy grey Kasaqui was schooling in the paddock. I expected it to be quiet there, since most people gravitated back toward the grandstand to rejoin their friends and get a bet in.
A woman with a ticket in her hand walked up to a security guard posted at the trackside entrance to the paddock. She let the guard know that the ticket had been cast aside, pointing with her other had toward where she had seen it flutter to the ground. She explains to him that she had not seen who dropped it. After talking for a few moments, they decide that the ticket may have been left by one of a group of horseplayers about twenty feet down the rail.
The guard walks down the rail with the ticket, and asks the group whether any of them had dropped the ticket. They looked — no one had. They checked the ticket — none of them had even played that horse in the upcoming race. The guard walked back over to the woman, who still stood near the paddock gate. They resumed discussion of the ticket’s provenance.
Suddenly, the guard. “I know why none of them had that horse — look! The 3 scratched!” The woman turns to the infield tote board, and finally notices the empty space where Nite of the Hunter’s odds would have been. The guard continued, “he should be able to get his $10 back!”
As post approached, the woman walked back toward the grandstand to join her friends. She left the ticket with the security guard. He kept his post at the gate. He furrowed his brow, beginning to wonder how he would find the owner of the tossed ticket. It wasn’t a winner…but after all, $10 beats ticket confetti any day, and its owner would appreciate having it back.