Sunday, January 22, 2012

Carol Siciliano, Stewards' Assistant and Claims Clerk

When you’ve worked at one place almost 30 years, like Tampa Bay Downs stewards’ assistant and claims clerk Carol Siciliano, it’s hard not to trip over the memories. Yet Carol and her husband Sam Siciliano, the track’s paddock judge and a former jockey, bring an energy level to their jobs that others strive to match. Carol works in tandem with the stewards to uphold the integrity of the claims process and files the reports, notices and rulings that accompany each day’s performance. Along the way, she has made enough friends and encountered enough characters to fill several scrapbooks.
I don’t know how the jockeys’ wives feel these days, but I never had a problem with Sam’s career choice. I always knew that he knew what he was doing, that he could take care of himself on the racetrack. He had a couple of pretty bad spills, but he survived and we made it through, thanks to prayer and our faith in God.
Sam rode for about 25 years at all the major Midwestern tracks: Arlington, Hawthorne, Washington Park, Sportsman’s, Keeneland, Latonia, Detroit, River Downs and Beulah Park in Ohio and, of course, Churchill Downs. He competed against the top jockeys – (Bill) Shoemaker, (Eddie) Arcaro, (Bill) Hartack. They were all good friends and good people.
I watched his races when I could, but we had three sons who were all into sports and I was following them, so I didn’t get out to the track as much as I should have. A lot of us wives used to meet on Saturdays. We’d corral around the paddock, take the kids and have a good afternoon.
Sam used to ride a horse named I Been Robbed, but we called him ‘The Thief.’ Sam actually won quite a few races on him and I used to make sure I went to the races on those days, because I loved that horse.
When my youngest son turned 16, I took my first job on the track, in the tack shop at River Downs outside Cincinnati. I sold saddles, horseshoes, racing equipment and other supplies. I loved every minute of it and that prepared me for our life after Sam was ready to retire as a jockey.
Like so many jockeys, it was always Sam’s goal to ride in the Kentucky Derby. I thought he might get there in 1984 with a horse trained by Gerry Russell named So Vague, but Sam was in a bad spill at Beulah Park less than three weeks before the Derby. He broke his collarbone and five ribs, punctured his lung and damaged his spleen. He was in pretty bad shape; it took him about 6-to-8 weeks to recover.
Patti Cooksey ended up riding So Vague (who finished 11th). Around that time, I knew Sam really didn’t want to go back to riding.
We had talked about retiring before then, but at no time did I ever think about asking Sam to quit or saying ‘I don’t want you to do that any more.’ I think every person needs to choose for themselves what to do with their lives. I wouldn’t have wanted him, or anyone, to say to me ‘Carol, you need to quit your job and do something else.’ We knew when he was ready.
Warren Wolf, who used to be the racing secretary here and at River Downs, helped Sam transition into working as a racing official. When we came to Tampa Bay Downs in 1982, I started working in the gift shop, which at that time was actually a novelty stand. About two years later, Mrs. (Lorraine) King, the general manager, said they needed somebody for the claims job, so I went and interviewed with (then-racing secretary) Bob Clark and got the job. I have been doing it ever since.
As fate would have it, our friend Bill Hartack was one of the stewards here then, along with John Hanley and Bill Ellis. We used to go to Bill Hartack’s house all the time to play cards, and I would help cook. We were good friends with the Hanleys, and I still keep in contact with John’s wife Jean.
Hartack, who won the Kentucky Derby five times, was a very private person. He was happy to autograph his book, but he didn’t like being bothered by a bunch of people, so he usually would sign it and have me hand it out to people who asked for it.
I have an excellent relationship with our present stewards: John Morrissey, Dennis Lima, William Keen and Charlie Miranda. They are all gentlemen, but we joke around a lot.
Sometimes I tell them the most important part of my job is to have fresh coffee ready, because they can be very grumpy in the morning. They know I’m joking. But the main reason everything seems to run so smoothly in this office is because we get along well and help each other.
The stewards are under a lot of stress, but they can handle it. They’re tough guys. In here, you do what needs to be done and try to enjoy every day. To me, every day is a blessed one and I try to make the best of it.
I’ve worked with so many good stewards here – the ones I’ve already mentioned, and men such as Bob Clark, Mike Anifantis, Dick Kinsey, Arthur Pedregal, Jr. and Heriberto Rivera, Jr., the former jockey. Charlie Miranda and Arthur, who unfortunately is no longer with us, used to be trainers here and were both training at River Downs when I started in the tack shop.
In the mornings on race days, I do all my paperwork – daily reports for the Internet, hearing notices, rulings, and owner and trainer transfers that have to be documented and sent to the racing office. If a horse is beaten more than 35 lengths, we put it on the stewards’ list and it has to work for the clocker before it is allowed to race again.
There are several steps I need to follow for a claim. First, I call the track bookkeeper to make sure there is enough money in the account. Then I call the stewards to advise them of the claim.
Next, I call the jockeys’ room and inform the clerk of scales, because he has to tell the valet. Then I tell Richard, the announcer, so he can tell the public, and then I call Equibase so it is included in the chart.
Plus, if the horse finishes first or second, I have to call the ‘spit barn’ because the claimed horse has to be tested. Finally, I have to fax my transfer paper over to Allison De Luca in the racing office.
It can get pretty hectic when more than one claim is put in on a certain horse and we have to perform a shake to determine who gets the horse, or when two or more horses are claimed from the same race. I remember one race when we had eight claims on one horse and three or four on another.
I called Margo (Flynn, the Tampa Bay Downs Vice President of Marketing) and she called the bookkeeper and helped me out. Teamwork means everything in a situation like that.
Once the horse breaks the gate in a race, it means the claim is official and the horse has a new owner. One of the saddest things for me is when a horse is injured or breaks down after it has been claimed. I don’t care if it’s $5,000 or $32,000, that is a lot of money to most of these trainers. Through the years, most of the horsemen have become like family, and that is always a difficult situation.
Sam and I really haven’t thought about retiring, maybe because the meet is only a few months out of the year and we enjoy being here so much and seeing all our friends. We used to work at the fair meets in Massachusetts for about eight years before they started closing. Sam was racing secretary one year and an assistant the other years, and I was an entry clerk and placing judge.
We miss being a part of that scene, but now when the live meeting here ends we head up to our place in Beverly Hills (Fla.) and rest and relax and swim in the pool.
We do a lot of walking and hiking in the summer, work in the yard a lot. We go and aggravate our kids once in a while, go to visit our grandkids. Sometimes we take little side trips, looking for a new adventure.
What’s always in the back of our minds is the start of the next season at Tampa Bay Downs. And every year, it seems to get here quicker.

1 comment:

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    Prana Women's Sophie Skirt