Although Florida is home to nearly all breeds of horses, thoroughbreds are the most popular breed in the state, and as a result, Florida boasts three of the top thoroughbred horse race tracks in the United States: Calder Race Course, Gulfstream Park, and Tampa Bay Downs.
Each year, the Kentucky Derby launches on January 1 at the Calder Race Course in Miami during the Gr-III Tropical Park Derby followed by graded stakes races on the Road to the Roses at both Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs over the course of the next few months—if you're a fan of thoroughbred racing, you don't want to miss these three courses on your trip to the Sunshine State.
With an impressive breeding of 3,500 to 5,000 thoroughbreds a year coming out of Ocala, located in North Central Florida, the city boasts the title of Horse Capital of the World, accounting for 10 percent of the nation's annual total production. However, it does not boast a local track, so thoroughbred enthusiasts must travel to Miami, Hallandale, or Osmar to see this impressive breed in competition.
Experiencing Thoroughbred Racetracks
Your first adventure to a professional thoroughbred race course is sure to be an unforgettable experience. Be sure to take a tour of the tracks before the races start, noting where the betting windows and concessions are located so you have a better feel for your environment before finding a seat—remember, many of these historical sites have been around for nearly 100 years and each offers a brilliant look through the history of horse racing.
Once you find your seat in the clubhouse overlooking the race course, you can see the horses entering the track for the post parade to the starting gate; as the horses prance, you have the opportunity to check out the Daily Racing Form the track gives to all patrons and place a bet on your favorite horse, buy a drink or gossip with other race enthusiasts about which horses they think will win.
When the bell rings, be sure to pay attention to the gates spring open and your chosen horse bounds out of its stable. Get caught up in the excitement and feel free to cheer your horse all the way to the photo finish! If you want to get on track for an unforgettable experience, our suggestion for a sure bet would be to spend the day, or a part of the day, at one of the race tracks listed below—in case you were wondering, the tracks are family-friendly and can even be educational for the kids!
Visiting Calder Race Course in Miami, Florida
Calder Race Course was purchased by Churchill Downs in April 1999, and the track itself recently celebrated 35 years of racing history, though the facilities were remodeled about 10 years ago and now include several dining options besides the usual concessions.
Calder offers a unique free Junior Jockey Club for children age 15 or younger where kids receive a free monthly newsletter highlighting club activities and upcoming events. The program educates young people about horses and the racing industry through hands-on activities held on Family Days, which are held from noon to 5:00 p.m. in the Picnic Grove. Family Days are free—even to an adult bringing a kid!
Calder also offers simulcasting and a card room. The park is conveniently located at 21001 N.W. 27th Avenue in Miami, which is just 10 to 15 miles from Downtown Miami and South Beach.
Visiting Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida
If you find yourself little further north of Miami in Hallandale, Florida, consider checking out Gulfstream Park, which recently completed a major renovation project that brought the facility up-to-date with state-of-the-art amenities to continue its world-class thoroughbred racing legacy.
These new facilities boast four spectacular restaurants and plenty of accommodations for every level player as well as simulcasting and a card room.
Gulfstream Park is located at 901 S. Federal Highway in Hallandale which is between North Miami Beach and Hollywood, Florida, which makes it an easy drive if you want to visit both Calder and Gulfstream Park's courses.
If you're in the mood to witness a thoroughbred race in person, though, be sure to check out the Gulfstream Park Racing Calendar to make sure your vacation lines up with one of the dozens of races that take place each year at this exciting newly renovated course.
Visiting Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Florida
If, however, you find yourself on the northwest side of the state, the Tampa Bay Downs track offers a similar experience to those mentioned above; since its opening in 1926 under the name Tampa Downs, this thoroughbred racing course has had several name changes and overcame a string of difficult years to gain the success it enjoys today.
The grandstand is covered and the amenities are adequate, but not luxurious, so if you're looking for a more modern take on horse racing, you may want to default back to Gulfstream Park or Calder Race Course. However, the Silks Card Room was recently remodeled and features nine different types of live-action games as well as simulcasting of the current race.
Tampa Bay Downs is located just west of Tampa, on Race Track Road in Oldsmar, Florida, which is easily accessible by taxi or even public transit via the public bus services offered to the Tampa Bay area—be sure to check Google Maps if you're unsure of how to travel to this classic race course!