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By Jim Freer and Barry Unterbrink
We launched HorseRacingFLA six months ago to report on thoroughbred racing throughout Florida, with a goal of filling a void left by newspapers and other media that are continuing to reduce their coverage of the sport.
Our coverage of Saturday's opening day at Tampa Bay Downs is an example of how we are carrying out that mission.
As far as we could tell, we were the only members of the print media who attended Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar. The only other people in the press box were track employees.
When we weren't at those desks and writing we were around the building and track, gathering news for stories for this blog and for our Web site http://www.horseracingfla.com/
That followed our preview stories on the Tampa Bay Downs meet.
Our Two-Coast Coverage
We are based in South Florida and our primary locale for live coverage is Gulfstream Park. However, on many weekends one or both of us will be at Tampa Bay Downs. We are in the process of adding a staff correspondent in the Tampa Bay area to cover Tampa Bay Downs racing and other pari-mutuel news.
Meanwhile, we are continuing to cover the racing and other news at Tampa Bay Down via phone and Internet communications with officials at Tampa Bay Downs and our numerous other sources in Florida's racing industry.
Here's a look at the coverage that the Tampa Bay area's daily newspapers provided on opening day at Tampa Bay Downs.
* On Saturday, the Tampa Bay Times ran a preview story about opening day and the meet. It also ran the Tampa Bay Downs Saturday entries, right next to the Saturday entries and Friday summary results for the Derby Lane greyhound track in St. Petersburg.
On Sunday, the Times did not have any stories or even a brief about Tampa Bay Downs. It ran a gate-type summary results that showed the first three finishers, their prices and the prices on all exotic bets. It ran those results next to the summary results of Derby Lane's afternoon and evening race cards.
* On Saturday, the Tampa Tribune did not have a story about Tampa Bay Downs. It ran the Tampa Bay Downs entries, next to the Derby Lane entries and results.
The Tribune did not have a story on Tampa Bay Downs in its Sunday edition. It ran the summary results, in a way similar to the Times.
* Our review of each paper's Web site showed no additional coverage of Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday or Sunday.
There were no stakes races at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday. But it was opening day for the local track that has been improving the quality of its racing and building its national recognition.
Still, the area's two biggest newspapers basically ignored it.
Florida newspapers give huge amounts of space to football. Tampa Bay Downs opened on a weekend that included Saturday's Florida State - Florida game. But some people wondered why there was no space for Tampa Bay Downs, celebrating its 90th anniversary and on most winter days in the top five in handle among U.S. tracks.
Tampa Bay is among markets where daily newspapers in recent have reduced their coverage of thoroughbred racing. The trend is toward fewer Saturdays of on-site coverage, along with saving space by running summary results rather than full charts.
Interest From Fans
But the cutbacks in newspaper coverage are not preventing an average of about 4,000 people from finding Tampa Bay Downs on race days.
Tampa Bay Downs is in Oldsmar, Fla., on the north side of Tampa Bay. Oldsmar is in Hillsborough County (Tampa) and is immediately east of the border with Pinellas County (St. Petersburg).
The track is about 25 miles north of downtown St. Petersburg and about 17 miles north of downtown Tampa.
On Saturday 4,194 people went to Tampa Bay Downs, and they bet $350,174 on the day's ten races. That was part of all-sources handle of $3,666,409.
All of those figures are higher than for the track's opening day last year, on Saturday Nov. 29.
Later today on our blog and Web site, we will have more stories with information on the racing and the business side atTampa Bay Downs.