Was it an unruly drunk man who gambled away his bankroll? A confused golfer trying to track down an errant slice, perhaps?
This time the intruder was of a decidedly reptilian origin.
As the seven-horse field was rounding the first turn roughly 20 seconds into the sixth race on the card — an $8,000 claiming race for older horses at a mile and 1/16th on the dirt, if you're keeping score at home — an alligator from a lake on the race course infield decided to cross the track.
In a clip of the action, the careful viewer might be able to discern the trailing horse, Mapache G, who went off at odds of 5/1, experiencing a direct encounter with the gator, while another horse jumps over it. In spite of the scaly-hided obstacle, Mapache G closed the gap and crossed the finish line in second place, earning $2,835 of the $14,000 purse. Shimmering Light, the favorite, took first place and $8,100.
The exacta paid $10 even.
Have heard of jumping the shark but not jumping the gator. A trainer with horse in the race said this dark spot on the track in Race 6 at @TampaBayDownsFL Feb 24 was an alligator. No mention in @Equibase chart though one jockey claimed foul (not against the gator). pic.twitter.com/PJt5fdrbxR
— Ray Paulick (@raypaulick) February 25, 2023
“An alligator was on the track on the start of the backstretch and may have caused off-camera interference with some of the horses in the field,” notes the official chart of the race.
Regarding one of the contenders who came in a distant fourth, the footnotes read, “Papa Jimmy shied away from [the] alligator but was held firmly in place…by his rider headed around the first turn, stalked the leader on the outside up the backstretch, navigated the far turn from the three path and finished evenly.”
Jockey Manny Jimenez, who was riding Papa Jimmy, told the British news site Mirror that he and his steed had “won the race of life” by narrowly avoiding the reptile. Jimenez said he had to take a wide path to avoid potentially fatal peril.
“By the time, I [saw] the gator we were pretty close to each other and his head was looking at us in the path my horse is running,” Jimenez said. “So I just took my horse wider by the hind body and the tail of the gator, and put him straight so he can see the gator. Horses are smart enough that they know how to avoid problems… I prayed to God, trusted my horse, and we made it to the other side.”
The race was rife with wildlife, as a flock of unidentifiable snow-white birds apparently wanted in on the action as well, swooping over the track at the same time the gator crossed into the charging horses’ path.
One attendee didn't even realize an alligator had made it onto the track.
“I was wondering what was going on during the running of this race,” the spectator posted on Twitter. “I pointed out that 8 was running extremely wide.”
Tampa Bay Downs hosts the annual Tampa Bay Derby in March, when horses can earn points in hopes of qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. The track has hosted races since 1926.