Sunday, December 29, 2013

Eli Hernandez, Track Chaplain

First-year Tampa Bay Downs Chaplain Eli Hernandez grew up in a dangerous, gang-riddled area of Los Angeles, but his parents’ emphasis on leading a Christian life – his father was a church elder and his mother was a church secretary – kept him from yielding to the streets. At 9, he surrendered his life to serving Jesus Christ, and his passion for helping others continued to grow. Walking to school as a teenager, he saw dozens of homeless people sleeping under a nearby bridge. Concerned for their plight, he began dropping off sandwiches he prepared at home each morning. “There were a lot of distractions where I grew up, and as a teenager I kind of went sour,” he recalls. “But I always came back to my roots, and that was God.” Married for 25 years to Martha, Hernandez was ordained in 2000 by the Fruit of the Spirit Church. He was a minister at the New Living Way Church in Downey, Calif., and a senior claims adjuster for an insurance agency when he learned of the opportunity to join the Tampa Bay Downs Division of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America. Pastor Eli talks about his family, the decision to move cross-country and the community he serves at Tampa Bay Downs in this installment of the track’s “Racing In The Sunshine” blog.

 THE TOUGHEST OBSTACLE MANY OF THE BACKSTRETCH WORKERS FACE is being away from their families. They get up early in the morning, they work seven days a week and the living area is far from glamorous, but they do their jobs well and are willing to sacrifice to make life a little better for their loved ones. My hat goes off to them. They are the unsung heroes of the game, and they deserve all the recognition the media and public relations people can give them.

GROWING UP, MY BROTHER MANUEL TOOK ME TO SANTA ANITA and Hollywood Park, but all I saw was the glamorous part of the sport – the horses running, the jockeys riding and everyone jumping up and down when their horse won. I never thought about the backside of it. In fact, I never even knew there was a backside. Now that I am experiencing it firsthand, it’s amazing to me what goes on with the grooms and the hot walkers and the other employees. They are a big part of what makes the front so good.

MOVING CROSS-COUNTRY TO FLORIDA WAS A TREMENDOUS CHANGE for Martha and myself. Our daughter Jessica, her two children and our son Matthew, who is 18 and a high school senior, are still in Los Angeles, so the holidays were the toughest time. But Martha and myself and our kids believe God sent us here for a purpose. God has provided us the peace and comfort, and everyone here has accepted us with open arms, which has made it much easier for us. We feel we are developing a family here at the racetrack.

WE ALL AGREED IT WAS THE RIGHT MOVE FOR MATTHEW TO STAY at his school, but that was obviously one of the biggest decisions we have ever had to make as a family. We had never been apart from him. He’s a basketball player, and I went to all of his practices and his games and his functions. He is living now with his sister and her family. Some people said we were taking a step of faith, but it was definitely a leap of faith. But we knew in our hearts it was the right thing and we are getting through it.

MARTHA’S PASSION IS GREATER THAN MINE. She cares about people and loves people, and together we have that same goal to serve them, to help them and to reach out to those in need. If that means encouragement or if it means just sitting down and listening, we are blessed to do it. Martha is a great listener. If people ask us for advice we’ll give it, but sometimes they just want a listening ear.

THE GAMBLING ASPECT OF HORSE RACING DOESN’T BOTHER ME AT ALL. I see it as another opportunity for me to counsel someone if they are in need. Individuals are individuals, and we are all looking for a way to get ahead in life. I refuse to judge anybody or put anybody down. We are not here for that. We are here to lift up and encourage. I would just hope that if they make a big win, they give some to the chaplaincy. When my brother Manuel took me, I always bet on the gray horse. I don’t do any more betting, but I always cheer for the grays because they are so beautiful.

HERE AT THE TRACK, MY MISSION IS TO SERVE in any way I can. That might mean providing clothing or tracking down telephone numbers or just being an encouragement. The big thing is just making myself available to whatever someone’s needs are. We have non-denominational church services every Monday at 6 p.m., English classes on Mondays and Tuesdays at 2 p.m., and Bible study on Thursday at 2 p.m. I am also planning to start an Alcoholic’s Anonymous class through the Chaplain’s office if there are people willing to be committed to it.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE IS AN ISSUE WE DEAL WITH in all segments of society, not just on the racetrack. But the nature of the job, in which many employees have a lot of free time after training hours, can make things worse. I am certified and licensed as a drug and alcohol counselor, but I don’t have all the answers. But I’m looking forward to helping those people who want help and are willing to take that step to get it.

I SEE A BIG OPPORTUNITY HERE. I’ve spoken to grooms and hot walkers, jockeys, trainers and owners, and there is so much opportunity here for me to serve people. There are so many here on the track who have needs and are hurting or seeking guidance, and this environment brings everybody together regardless of what state or country or background they are from. Striving to work together in unity and harmony – what an opportunity that is for all of us. We can wake up every morning, help and encourage each other and look up at the end of the day and say “Thank you, God, for another day you have given us to work together as a team.”

IN THE SHORT TIME MARTHA AND I HAVE BEEN HERE, I believe we have proven to people they can trust us. Already, we’ve had so many open up their hearts, and we’ve been able to pray with them and point them in the right direction when they need help. We want people to know we are here for them and we care about them. My door is always open and my phone is always on. We feel comfortable here and are confident we’re in the right place.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Jamie Ness, Trainer

Thanks to the wonder of simulcasting, Jamie Ness has become one of the best-known Thoroughbred trainers in North America. But there is no magic formula responsible for his success. The Odessa, Fla., resident is at Barn 14 on the Tampa Bay Downs backstretch every morning at 5 a.m. to check his string of 40 horses, organize his staff, oversee workouts and make final preparations for that day’s races. He also stays abreast via telephone of the 30 horses he trains at Laurel Park in Maryland. Since starting his career at Canterbury Park in Minnesota, the South Dakota State graduate has streaked across the racing firmament like a shooting star, saddling more than 2,000 winners and leading the continent in 2012 with 395 victories. He has won the training title at Tampa Bay Downs seven consecutive years. Rich Papiese, whose Midwest Thoroughbreds operation is Ness’ sole client, said “He sees things other people don’t see. From the time we drop a claim (for a horse), he knows where we are going with that horse right away. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who works as hard as he does.” The 39-year-old Ness is married to a former jockey and trainer, Mandy (McKeever). They have a 1-year-old daughter, Hannah.

I DON’T FIND MYSELF STAYING AT THE BARN WASTING TIME like I did before Hannah was born. I do everything we need to do, but I don’t spend time messing around. I’m at home more now, that’s for sure. Being a dad is the best feeling in the world. It helps a lot because Hannah likes to come out here and play with the horses, so it’s fun to have her involved in my job. I have to admit, Mom does all the hard work and I get all the glory. It just shows me there are more things in life than my job. I try not to bring work home, anyway, but now I can lose 10 races in a row, come home and see Hannah smiling, and it makes a big difference.

IT’S REALLY FUN GOING TO WORK WITH YOUR WIFE EVERY DAY. I mean it. Mandy grew up in the business and knows all the ins and outs, the long hours and the travel, and she accepts all that. Sometimes all we do is talk about the horses, but that’s because we’re around them so much and we love it. She watches over everything here when I’m in Maryland, so I know the operation is running smoothly. She used to pony a lot in the mornings, but we’re expecting again in June so she doesn’t do that now. This is our business, and we’re partners. My job and my success are part of her life, too.

YOU BET I HAVE CONCERNS ABOUT THE FUTURE of racing. I came into the sport when racing was on a downslide. I’m worried about attendance dropping at a lot of tracks. Tampa Bay Downs does a good job drawing fans, but I don’t see a lot of young people here. I think night racing would be a big draw, but I know Florida doesn’t allow it. I’m concerned that slot machines that boost purses are just a quick fix, and that it is going to backfire on us in a few years. I don’t profess to have a whole lot of solutions, and I know there are a lot of people with marketing degrees who are a lot smarter than I am working to reverse the trend. The advantage horse racing had for years was that it was the only gambling game in town. So we never really took care of our customers and when other forms of gambling came along, a lot of people migrated there. I am hoping it is cyclical and the glory days of racing come back around, but we have to switch around how we do things. We need to treat it more like entertainment.

MY FIRST FEW YEARS AS A TRAINER, I WAS RUNNING THE SIMULCAST FACILITY AT CANTERBURY in Minnesota, and training horses was basically a hobby. I wouldn’t say I struggled, but I didn’t win a lot of races; according to Equibase statistics, I was 35-for-332 my first three years. But as I started gaining experience and getting more business, I decided it was time to fish or cut bait and become a full-time trainer. I had helped my dad, John Ness, a little growing up when he raced some horses at smaller Midwestern tracks, but when I started at Canterbury I was kind of on my own. I didn’t follow anyone’s lead. I just kept working hard and claimed a couple of good horses, and it blossomed from there. One thing about training horses: You won’t get anywhere if you aren’t willing to put in the time.

I DON’T THINK TRAINING RACEHORSES IS ROCKET SCIENCE. First of all, you aren’t going to do anything without decent horses, just like a football coach needs good players to win. Then you take good care of them, assess their ability, train them right and put them in races where they belong. There is no use running a horse where it can’t win. I like all my horses, but when one gets claimed I know we did everything we could with the horse and good luck to the next owner. If you’re a sentimentalist, you’re probably not in the business anymore. You have to treat it like a business, but you better take care of your horses the best way you know how because they are your livelihood and you can’t help getting attached to them.

I FEEL LIKE WE GET ALONG WITH EVERYBODY on the backstretch. I don’t know that I would describe the relationships with other horsemen as close, but it’s still a family. If something happens to somebody, everybody helps out. But we’re also competitors, and we’re all trying to do the same thing – win races and make a living. So after a race you congratulate the winner, but beforehand we’re trying to beat you.

IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO HAVE A GOOD RAPPORT WITH YOUR OWNER. Rich Papiese and I have been together since 2008, and he has been very instrumental in my success. After my daughter was born, he understood I didn’t need to win 400 races and be leading trainer at six or seven tracks every year, so he agreed to let me cut back to two strings. He’s a good guy who really likes his horses, and he wants me to do everything the right way. I think I will always have a relationship with Midwest. Whether I train only for them or have some other horses is to be decided in the future, but I like the way things are working.

I HAVEN’T HAD THAT GRADED-STAKES TYPE OF HORSE YET, but I’m hoping to find one somewhere. Rich has been buying more young horses at the sales, and we have a bunch of yearlings at his training facility in Anthony, Fla., so we hope to have more 2 and 3-year-olds competing in the future. With the horses I work with, it is pretty hard to get a graded winner, because I run a claiming operation and we don’t get many young horses. I sure don’t want to be the guy who buys a horse for $300,000 and winds up running him for a $16,000 claiming tag. Guam Typhoon (a 7-year-old multiple-stakes winner) got close for us last year. His numbers were borderline for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, but he was just a notch below and I knew better than to just take a shot. Was it tempting? Absolutely. But he had had a long campaign and was a little tired, and I know I did the best thing for the horse by staying away. Everybody wants to run in the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders’ Cup and so do I, but you have to have the right horse to do it.

IT’S FUNNY HOW SOME HORSES’ NAMES ARE SO MEANINGFUL. Lookinforthesecret was a horse I claimed here for $12,500 in 2007, and he ended up winning stakes after stakes; eight all told, including four at Tampa Bay Downs and a $250,000 stakes at Calder. Nobody knew my name until that horse started doing well, but when he kept winning, a couple of people got interested and claimed some horses for me to train, and things started to take off. I’ll always be grateful to Lookinforthesecret because he helped me make a name for myself, and he is still active as a sire. His win pictures are up on my walls; I don’t have any other ones there.

IF I HAD TO STOP TRAINING TODAY, I’d probably move back to the Dakotas and do something with horses or livestock. I don’t want to do anything else, nor do I really have the skills for anything else. You see a lot of old trainers who train forever, and when they retire, they die. They’re used to the routine and the adrenaline rush and the competitiveness, and when that’s gone, they don’t always get along. If I didn’t work as a trainer, I’d probably be out here every day watching races and betting. I love the whole sport, and I’m living the dream. I hope I’m training until I’m 90 years old, because that means there is still racing somewhere.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Linda Scocca, Silks

A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their
favorite sport

Among Thoroughbred racing’s hierarchy, women were still viewed as second-class citizens on the backside when horse-loving teenager Linda Keelan arrived at Hazel Park outside Detroit in 1969. Female trainers were few and far between, and it had been only a few months since Diane Crump made history at Hialeah as the first woman jockey in North America. “You might have seen a few women then galloping horses or walking hots, but mostly they were working in the shedrow,” recalls Linda, the daughter of a coal miner and blacksmith, Avery Mullins. Linda went to work for trainer Clyde Crandwell, who figured she would be a no-show when he told her to report for duty at 3:45 a.m. But Crandwell’s job offer represented her window to a lifetime in Thoroughbred racing, and she has been keeping track hours ever since. “I had quit school when I was 15 and had two daughters before I was 18, and I can’t recommend that to anyone,” Linda says. “But for me, horse racing has always been a passion. Not one day in my life did I ever get up and think I had to go to work.” Linda started ponying horses to the track at Hazel Park and Detroit Race Course in 1972; five years later, she passed her trainer’s test at Finger Lakes in New York on “one of the happiest days of my life.” That same summer, she won her first race with a Michigan-bred mare named Mylette. Training anywhere from 5-to-17 horses at a time, Linda won races at Tampa Bay Downs, Gulfstream, Finger Lakes, Detroit, Thistledown, Mountaineer Park, Canterbury and Rockingham. “I never had a lot of owners,” she says. “Sometimes people would owe me money, so they would give me a racehorse and I’d patch it up and win with it.” In 1982, Linda married jockey Danny Scocca; they were together 16 years. When Linda became a jockey’s agent, Scocca was her first client. Over the course of 11 years, she also “hustled book” for Ronnie Allen, Jr., Ricardo Lopez, Bennie Feliciano, Heriberto Rivera, Jr., and Gary Bain. Linda, who sold her High Hopes Thoroughbred farm in Brooksville last year, has been in charge of the silks in the jockeys’ room at Tampa Bay Downs since 2008. At any one time, she might be juggling more than 350 pairs of colors, between laying out that day’s silks, preparing the next day’s sets and laundering. She also ponies horses in the morning, often working for trainer Kathleen O’Connell, who was galloping horses at the Michigan tracks at the same time Linda was getting her start. Linda will head to Colonial Downs in Virginia when the 2012-13 Tampa Bay Downs meet ends to work as a pony rider. In addition to her two grown daughters, Linda has a grandson and a great-grandson.



HOMETOWN: Clintwood, Va.

BEST HORSES I’VE EVER SEEN/TRAINED: I got to see Secretariat win the Arlington Invitational in person and I watched Cigar win the 1995 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream. Ruffian and Seattle Slew also fell into that category; it was breathtaking to watch those horses run. Courtmate was probably the best horse I trained. He wasn’t much, but he paid me and my girls just about every time he ran.

HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: After we watched Northern Dancer win the 1964 Kentucky Derby on TV, I told my father I would be the first woman to win the race. He told me ‘Well, it’s not a game for women,’ but I knew I was going to train racehorses.

MY BIGGEST INSPIRATION: My dad, Avery Mullins. When I was growing up in Virginia, I took out a horse I wasn’t supposed to be riding, and he went over the side of a mountain. We had to cut the saddle off with a butcher knife so he could breathe normally and drag him back up the side of the mountain with a bulldozer. I was scared, but when my father got home he said ‘Young lady, if you want to ride, you go ride.’ He always told me I could do anything I put my mind to.

ONE CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: Establish uniform medication rules across the board, or allow no medication use at all.

MY FAVORITE ATHLETE: Johnny Longden, the late Hall of Fame jockey. I used to have an art store, and he sent me autographed items and also got me started growing orchids.

NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST OF THINGS TO DO: I’d like to go trail-riding out west and see states like Montana, Wyoming and Utah.

FAVORITE MOVIE: Phar Lap, about the great Australian champion Thoroughbred.

WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … If I had more time, I’d complete the memoir I’ve been working on the past 30 years.

FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: The sunshine, the location, a kind dirt course and a very good turf course.

ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Have a love for the game and a lot of patience, and don’t count on the horse winning to pay your bills.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

John Soos, Devoted Fan

A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their
favorite sport.

A fixture at Tampa Bay Downs since moving to Florida with his late wife Vivian in 1985, 96-year-old John Soos finds a day at the races a way to stay active and keep his mind sharp. “I’m not a big bettor, but I dance every dance,” Soos says. “That’s dumb, but I rationalize it by telling myself it’s just a couple of bucks, and I can’t hurt anyone but me.” As a U.S. Naval Radar Operator, John Soos spent the latter days of World War II in the south Pacific aboard the USS LSM-420, an amphibious assault and transport ship sent in after the Battle of Okinawa to evacuate a Sea Bee base. During his watch, the ship was part of a convoy that got caught in a typhoon, with 150-foot swells making it feel as if he was being lifted to a mountaintop and dropped to a valley floor. While anchored in Okinawa Harbor, the crew of the LSM-420 watched U.S. warplanes dive-bomb the island, an experience Soos compared to watching a movie. When a Japanese suicide plane flew overhead, U.S. ships opened fire, shooting the plane from the sky but also resulting in U.S. casualties from friendly fire. Days later at Saipan, with the end of the war in sight, Soos watched flares from the American fleet light up the night sky. “The greatest fireworks display of my life,” he later wrote. It wasn’t until January of 1946 when Soos arrived home in Bridgman, Michigan, to be reunited with Vivian and their 5-year-old son, John Soos III. Soos returned to work with the Nineteen Hundred Corporation, which later became Whirlpool. Soos, an assembly inspector, quickly became active in labor negotiations, but he never considered himself strictly a union or a company man; it was the issue that needed to be grasped and debated, above common politics. In 1949, Soos and four fellow workers pitched in $5 each to form the Nineteen Hundred Employees Federal Credit Union in St. Joseph, Mich., giving workers back from the war the ability to secure loans for down payments on homes. Soos served as the President of the Credit Union until he left Whirlpool in 1960. The Sooses briefly owned a golf course and bowling center called Bowling Green Lanes and Country Club in Bridgman before he became a licensed insurance agent in St. Joseph for Wayne National. For a brief time, he was part-owner of the Twin City Sailors, a pro basketball team featuring 1963 NCAA champion Loyola of Chicago stars Jerry Harkness, Les Hunter and Johnny Egan. Around that time, Soos started getting interested in Thoroughbreds; he and Vivian went to New Orleans in December of 1963, rented an apartment and went to the races at Fair Grounds every day for six weeks. Soos acquired half-ownership of a horse named Royal Opening, which won its first start under his colors before being claimed. When Soos won a convention trip to Hawaii in 1966, he and Vivian spent three days on Maui; he got to play golf with future Hall of Fame baseball stars Al Kaline and Harmon Killebrew. Soos also took trips to London, Spain, Las Vegas and Brazil, and calls Rio de Janeiro the most beautiful place he has been. Soos lives six months in Port Richey and six months in Michigan with his companion, Eleanor Wolf. In addition to his son John, he has two grandsons, a great-granddaughter who is studying medicine at the University of Michigan and two great-grandsons.

HOMETOWN: St. Joseph, Mich.

BEST HORSE: I wasn’t a big horse racing fan in my younger days, but I imagine 1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet was one of the best ever. His sire, Reigh Count, won the 1928 Kentucky Derby, and Count Fleet sired the 1951 Kentucky Derby winner, Count Turf. I pay close attention to bloodlines. When I see something by Indian Charlie, I know I’m going to get a race out of that horse.

HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: Back in the late 1930s, I was making $10 a week as a bartender. The bread man was a horse player, and I sneaked him 25 cents to make a bet for me. In Benton Harbor, Mich., there was a bookie on the second floor of a hotel, and you would climb up the fire escape to get there. I stayed in the car listening to the races from Arlington on the radio, and I soon realized they were still taking bets after the race was over.

MY BIGGEST INFLUENCE: Elisha “Bud” Gray, who was the Chairman of the Board and President of Whirlpool. He knew everybody by name, from the top dogs down to the janitors. While he was very knowledgeable, his greatest asset was his feel for people.

ONE CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: I don’t know if I am qualified to answer that, but I would like to see more owners and trainers run horses where they belong. They get a cheap claimer and want to win a stakes, but you can’t do it.

MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM/ATHLETE: The Detroit Tigers and their Hall of Fame right fielder, Al Kaline. He won the American League batting title when he was a kid and has always been a down-to-earth man.

NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST OF THINGS TO DO: I’d like to see my Navy buddies again. There are very few of us left.

FAVORITE TV SHOW/MOVIE: I enjoy Bonanza, because they are trying to do good all the time. My favorite movie is Dave, with Kevin Kline; they should run on every station that leading up to the next election.

WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … More yard work. We have a big oak tree in Michigan that rains down leaves, and I like to keep things looking nice.

FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: There are a lot of really friendly people here, and no one goes around with their nose in the air. And (General Manager) Peter Berube has mellowed a little. He gave me a clubhouse season pass on my last birthday.

ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Make like you’re back in school and don’t try to become an expert overnight. I don’t really come out here to make money; I come to enjoy myself for the day.



Sunday, April 14, 2013

Penelope Miller, America's Best Racing

A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their favorite sport

Penelope Miller is thriving in the big city, but she’ll always be a small-town horsewoman at heart. A resident of New York City, the former Tampa Bay Downs Publicity Assistant and Horseman’s Liaison is now the Senior Manager of Digital Media for America’s Best Racing, a fan development platform begun by the Jockey Club. Miller was promoted to her current post less than a year after being hired by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association as its first Social Media Manager. With mainstream media coverage of Thoroughbred racing on the decline and more and more fans interacting through such platforms as Facebook and Twitter, the outgoing, horse-savvy Miller was a natural choice to spearhead the NTRA and Jockey Club’s modern media initiative. The America’s Best Racing program features a fan-centric website (, television coverage of major Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands prep races, a redesigned social media presence (including a Pinterest page), online and social games and more. “My job is to introduce as many people as possible to the great sport of horse racing through our website and our various social media channels,” said Miller, a graduate of Georgetown University. Immersed in racing from her childhood, Miller believes younger people will gravitate to horse racing when they learn about the excitement of a driving photo finish, the pageantry of the post parade before a major stakes and the wonder of a foal taking its first wobbly steps after birth. While the Triple Crown watch is a major focus of her job, Miller is also introducing new fans to the tradition and history of racing, the ins and outs of wagering and what to wear to that Kentucky Derby party. Previously an assistant at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, a sales assistant for a Florida breeding farm and a groom and exercise rider, Miller returns to Tampa Bay Downs at least once a season. It’s a chance to renew friendships and take her pal Mouse the Miniature Horse on a refreshing stroll through the Backyard Picnic Area. While she is missed here, track officials know she is the type of representative needed to help restore racing to its former luster.



HOMETOWN: Fairfield, Fla.


BEST HORSE I’VE EVER SEEN: Oooh, tough one! Probably the best horse I’ve ever seen run in person is the amazing Holy Bull. I was just a little girl, and he captivated me.


HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: I was lucky enough to grow up on a Thoroughbred farm near Ocala, so you could say that I drank the horse racing Kool-Aid pretty much from birth.


MY BIGGEST INSPIRATION AND INFLUENCE: My parents. They taught me to work hard, to always try my best in everything I do, and to never lose my sense of humor.


ONE CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: I would like to see less negativity in the sport. There is so much to love about horse racing, and so much potential in the next few years to develop a whole new fan base. It would be great to see established racing enthusiasts share their positive experiences in the game with new and potential fans.


MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM: My parents’ racing stable! If that doesn’t count, my favorite team is definitely the Florida Gators. My neighbors in New York pretty much have to wear earplugs during every Florida football game, since I have the tendency to share encouragement and advice to the players on my TV at extreme volumes.


NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST OF THINGS TO DO: I’d love to go to the Dubai World Cup or the races in Hong Kong. Either of those experiences would be amazing.


FAVORITE TV SHOW/MOVIE: Community is my favorite TV show and The House of Yes is my favorite movie. They are both hysterically funny.


WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … I hate to even think about a life outside of racing! But I guess I would probably have ended up in the horse-show world. Once these animals get into your blood, you love them for life.


FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: Everything! Tampa Bay Downs is my home track; I worked here from 2006 until I began working for America’s Best Racing, so I know that there is a lot to love. But if I had to pick one thing, I would say this is the friendliest racetrack I’ve been to. Everyone from the cleaning staff to the management greets visitors with a smile and takes time out to talk to customers. It’s wonderful.


ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Have fun! This sport has something for everyone, from young families to college students to retirees. Racing is a great way to spend time outside, watch some amazing athletes and even leave with a little more money than you came with. No matter what you’re interested in, you’ll find something to love at the track. So kick back, relax and have yourself a good time.



Sunday, April 7, 2013

Dennis Lima, Association Steward

A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their favorite sport

Integrity is at the essence of Dennis Lima’s involvement with Tampa Bay Downs. With fellow Association Steward John Morrissey and State Steward Charles Miranda, Lima is devoted to adhering to strict standards of racetrack safety and fairness and protecting the public, which wagers its dollars with the understanding they are watching a clean, honest sport. “For me, the most rewarding aspect of this job is when you finish a meet knowing you have done your part to keep it as safe as you can for the horses and the jockeys,” Lima said. “The most important thing is to be as fair and consistent as possible with our rulings and our judgment calls during the races.” From the time his older brother Eddie introduced him to the backside of the racetrack at old Narragansett Park in Pawtucket, R.I., Lima was hooked on the sport. After high school, Lima came to Oldsmar in the winter of 1964, working under trainer Doc Canzano at what was then Sunshine Park. Lima trained a few horses of his own in New England with minimal success, then became an assistant to prominent trainer Ned Allard. Lima was also a jockey agent and later, an owner, for short stints. He next worked as a racing official on the Massachusetts fair circuit, showing enough promise to join racing secretary Bobby DeStasio’s team at Suffolk Downs in East Boston and Rockingham in Salem, N.H., as a placing judge, paddock judge and entry clerk. Lima’s big break came in 1987, when DeStasio appointed him as an alternate steward; three years later, he became a full-time steward at Rockingham, working there until the track closed in 2002. The late John Grady, former General Manager at Tampa Bay Downs, hired Lima as an Association Steward in 1993. He is also a State Steward from May through November at Delaware Park, where he started working in 2003. During the races, Tampa Bay stewards have access to a bank of television monitors that display head-on and pan shots, as well as action at various points of a race. If a steward views a possible infraction, they call the camera room for a series of replays before putting their heads together and issuing a verdict. Some of the busiest times come in the mornings, when the stewards handle scratches, conduct hearings and summon jockeys to view videotape from the previous day’s races. “We have an open-door policy for the owners, trainers and jockeys,” Lima said. “There has to be a good rapport there.” Lima has been married 17 years to Celeste, who previously worked in Group Sales at Tampa Bay Downs. He has a son and daughter from a previous marriage.



HOMETOWN: Pawtucket, R.I.


BEST HORSE I’VE EVER SEEN: Singling out one is impossible, because I’ve seen so many good ones. I watched Royal Delta win the Delaware Handicap last summer, and have been fortunate to see Barbaro, Afleet Alex, Havre de Grace and Blind Luck. And I’ve watched a lot of great ones here, like (Kentucky Derby winner) Street Sense. Verrazano was very impressive winning the Tampa Bay Derby last month, and hopefully he can continue his success.


HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: I spent my summers on the racetrack with my brother Eddie when I was in high school, starting as a hotwalker and groom. Just about all my jobs since have been on the racetrack, starting with Narragansett and Lincoln Downs in my home state of Rhode Island.


MY BIGGEST INFLUENCES: Jimmy Pambianchi, who helped me get my first racing official’s job at the Massachusetts fairs, and Bobby DeStasio, the racing secretary at Suffolk who hired me as an alternate steward. Without those opportunities, who knows what I’d be doing now.


ONE CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: Establish more uniformity in medication rules and penalties, especially with so many trainers shipping horses from state to state.


MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAMS/ATHLETES: The New York Yankees and the Boston Celtics. I used to go to a lot of Celtics games during the Larry Bird era. And pound for pound, jockeys are some of the best athletes in the world.


NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST OF THINGS TO DO: Visit Portugal, where my late parents were born.


FAVORITE TV SHOWS: Dateline NBC, 20/20 and 48 Hours.


FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: The improvements throughout the track and the well-maintained racing surfaces. (Vice President of Facilities and Track Surfaces) Tom McLaughlin and his crew do an excellent job. Also, the enhancements in the graded-stakes program.


WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … My initial goal was to try to be a racing secretary, but I’ve never had to cross that bridge (of not working at the track).


ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Whatever you choose to do, set your goals and work hard to achieve them.




Saturday, March 30, 2013

Paula Bacon, Jock's Agent

A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their favorite sport

Too many would-be jockeys arrive at the track expecting to get a leg up and start winning races right away. That’s the belief of Paula Bacon, who thinks more riders need to learn the sport from the ground up to prepare for a career in the saddle. “Everybody wants to get on horses right away, but no one wants to do the lower-level jobs – hotwalker, groom, assistant trainer – and that is the only way you learn right,” says Bacon, the agent for Ronnie Allen, Jr., and Ricardo Feliciano. The Illinois native knows from experience. Bacon worked as a hotwalker while in high school and was a groom, exercise rider and pony person before embarking on a successful career that saw her win more than 500 races. A serious back injury forced her to retire at 30, but from 1994-2001, Bacon might have been the most popular jockey at Tampa Bay Downs. She teamed with late trainer Don Rice for many victories, including one with 16-1 shot Guardianofthegate in the 2001 Columbia Stakes on the Tampa Bay Downs turf. Bacon – the daughter of jockey Johnny Bacon, who died in an auto accident when she was 5 – admits it was tough to stop riding. “I never dreamed I’d be quitting that soon. It was scary, and it was traumatizing,” she recalls. “You lose your routine – working horses, being in the jocks’ room, the camaraderie with the other riders. I missed being in the limelight. I was kind of like a celebrity who can’t get a movie role.” But she wasn’t down for long. After working as an agent for jockeys Bobby Walker, Jr., and David McFadden for two years, Bacon turned to training, first for veteran horseman David Walters, then for Richard Englander, who won back-to-back Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Owner in 2001-02. Another trainer, Wayne Catalano, also sent her a few runners. Bacon’s early lessons paid off on the backside; from 2004-10 she won at better than an 18-percent clip, her horses earning more than $2.7-million. One of her horses – a mare named Afleet Angel bred by Don Rice’s son, Brett, and owned by Brett’s wife, Lori – won stakes at Presque Isle Downs and Turfway in 2008, the latter with Bacon’s former riding rival and ex-boyfriend Willie Martinez in the saddle. When it became difficult to find owners a few years ago, Bacon returned to being an agent. “I miss training because I love to be with horses, but I’m very happy with what I’m doing,” Bacon said. “Ronnie has not changed at all since I first got to know him as a jockey almost 20 years ago – his attitude, his work ethic, the way he talks to people – and he and Ricardo are humble guys who are a pleasure to work with.”

HOMETOWN: Caseyville, Ill.


BEST HORSE I’VE EVER RIDDEN/TRAINED: Guardianofthegate was the best horse I’ve ridden. I won four races on him during the 2000-01 Tampa Bay Downs meeting, including the Columbia Stakes. As a trainer, Afleet Angel won both stakes for me when she was 8. She even finished third in a stakes for me at Turfway Park when she was 9.


HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: I was born into it. With all the influences around me, I knew I was going to be a jockey when I was a little girl. No two ways about it.


MY BIGGEST INSPIRATIONS: My mother, Susan Bacon, and (retired jockey) Mary Bacon, my dad’s first wife. My mom, who lives in Kentucky, did everything on the racetrack, from grooming to ponying horses to training. I told her I was going to be a jockey when I was 5 and she told me it would be a hard road, but she was always there for me. We were never rich, but I never needed for anything. I looked up to Mary Bacon because she was pretty and flashy and riding in big races just when women were starting to be jockeys. She was like a movie star to me, and I aspired to be like her.


ONE CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: Lessen the reliance on casino revenue at the racetracks. They are taking racing out of the game. In my opinion, Tampa Bay Downs does it the right way, with an emphasis on horses and the sport.


MY FAVORITE ATHLETES: I’m not sure if I have a favorite, but I always enjoyed watching Shane Sellers ride and patterned myself after him, his style and his decision-making. Pat Day was another jockey I admired. I loved watching Holy Bull run. He had a regal look and a real presence about him, almost an arrogance.


NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST OF THINGS TO DO: Travel to Australia and see all the wildlife.


FAVORITE MOVIE: Gone with the Wind. I never get tired of watching it.


FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: (Racing Secretary) Allison De Luca and (Stakes Coordinator) Gerry Stanislawzyk. They are very agent-friendly and make my job a lot of fun.


WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … I would be a journalist or a TV personality. They used to bring me up to do the paddock show at Canterbury (in Minnesota), and I always felt comfortable.


ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Start from the smallest job and work your way up. And go to college first, so you have a backup plan.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ryan Curatolo, Jockey

A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their
favorite sport
Communication is a key to any jockey’s success. When Ryan Curatolo arrived in Miami from France late in 2010 to begin his U.S. career at Calder, he taught himself English by talking back to the television in his hotel room. That enabled him to make the rounds of top stables that winter at Gulfstream, where he won 17 races as a 7-pound apprentice. By then, the teenager had established his innate ability to communicate with Thoroughbreds. Curatolo began working with trainer Patrick Biancone, who had previously helped develop top jockey Julien Leparoux. From Biancone, Curatolo learned the importance of patience, getting horses to relax, diet and a strong mental approach. His career took flight in early 2011 in New York, where he signed a contract to ride for Flying Zee Stable, owned by the late Carl Lizza. Despite fracturing his left clavicle in a spill in June, Curatolo won 115 races in 2011, with mount earnings of more than $4-million. In addition to winning Grade III stakes on Street Game and Pure Gossip, Curatolo enjoyed a four-victory day at Belmont, where his youthful smile became a familiar sight to grizzled railbirds. He was still 19 when he went to Churchill Downs to ride Lizza’s 2-year-old Pure Gossip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf; at year’s end, he was named a finalist for an Eclipse Award as Outstanding Apprentice Jockey. Curatolo’s career ascent was slowed last year due to a delay in renewing his immigration papers, but he is back on track at Tampa Bay Downs, where he has ridden 21 winners through March 23 and finished in the money with 40 percent of his starters. Now 20, Curatolo has a worldly perspective from competing against the top jockeys in the country at Gulfstream and New York, a realistic view of the sport from nearly being forgotten during his absence last year and a pleasant, optimistic attitude that has gained a large following locally.



HOMETOWN: Marseille, France.


BEST HORSE I’VE EVER RIDDEN: Street Game, for Flying Zee Stable and trainer Philip Serpe. I won the Grade III Hill Prince Stakes with the 3-year-old colt in 2011 by seven lengths on the turf at Belmont Park for my first stakes victory.


HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: My father started taking me to Marseille Borely Racecourse when I was 4 or 5. He even sent me to bet for him when I got a little older. And he always had racing on TV when I got home. I remember waking up early to watch the Japan Cup. It was so exciting.


MY BIGGEST INSPIRATION: My father, Robert. He is a musical agent and represented Gloria Gaynor when she came to France. He has a lot of talent and ambition, and I got my drive from him.


ONE CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: More television coverage, especially on local TV.


MY FAVORITE ATHLETE: David Beckham, the soccer player. I am also a fan of many of the top boxers.


NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST OF THINGS TO DO: I haven’t created a bucket list yet, but of course I want to ride in the Kentucky Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.


FAVORITE MOVIE: Catch Me If You Can, with Leonardo DiCaprio.


FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: The weather is awesome, and the grass course is perfect. When I win a race on the turf, it is even better!


WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … I might be a boxer. There are so many things to do.


ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Be focused, work hard, and treat everybody with respect.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Jon Johnson, Downs Golf Pro

A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their favorite sport

The past month has been a whirlwind for Class A professional Jon Johnson, Manager of The Downs Golf Practice Facility since its opening in March of 2003. In February, Johnson conducted the third annual Golfest Presented by Tampa Bay Championship, which attracted more than 3,000 participants over two days. In addition to overseeing daily operations, Johnson has been planning for the 10th anniversary celebration of the golf driving range and practice complex, which draws more than 35,000 visitors a year, on March 23. He also gave away daughter Kari’s hand in marriage March 16 in a ceremony at the racetrack. Johnson, the past President of the West Central Chapter of the North Florida PGA, was honored as the chapter’s Professional of the Year for 2012 and received the President’s Plaque for his contributions to the growth of the game. Before arriving in Florida, Johnson was an assistant professional at Augusta National in Georgia, site of the Masters, and ran the Michael Jordan Golf Center in Aurora, Ill. He has been married for 32 years to Kris, a registered nurse at Tampa General Hospital. As proof that pedigree is often as important in golf as in horse racing, Johnson’s son Kyle is an assistant golf superintendent at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, site of the PGA Tour’s annual Tour Championship; previously, Kyle was an assistant in training at Augusta National. In addition to Kyle and Kari, who is an elementary school teacher, the Johnsons have another daughter, Beth, a student at the University of South Florida. The fully-lighted Downs Golf Practice Facility, which ranks among the top-100 ranges in the United States, features 45 all-Bermuda grass hitting stations; two full-size chipping greens; an 8,000-square foot putting green; and a covered range area. Johnson and fellow Class A professional Matt Mitchell offer private lessons, and the facility provides adult and junior clinics and a junior summer camp program.

HOMETOWN: Monmouth, Ill.


BEST HORSE I’VE EVER SEEN: Secretariat, when he won the 1973 Belmont Stakes. I also saw the movie. Hearing how Jack Nicklaus cried watching him win the Belmont by 31 lengths – Jack was overcome by Secretariat’s magnificence – proves his greatness.


HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: I was managing the All-In-One Golf Practice & Learning Center in Largo when I heard through the grapevine Tampa Bay Downs was building a range. I sent my resume to (track Vice President and General Manager) Peter Berube, and I was off and running pretty quickly.


MY BIGGEST INSPIRATION: My late father, Carl Johnson. He was a dentist and a town leader, and he was someone I could always look to as an example. He gave me the drive to keep going and taught me how to treat people.


CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: I would like to see some night racing. I think it would attract a different crowd and give people who work a chance to enjoy the sport.


MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM/ATHLETE: The Chicago Cubs will always be my team. Once you are a Cubs fan, you never leave. My favorite players growing up were third baseman Ron Santo and outfielder Billy Williams. Later, my favorite athlete was Michael Jordan. He would come to his golf center and give clinics, and he was always very nice. Tom Watson, the champion golfer, would be a close second.


NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST: Take a family trip to Scotland and play St. Andrews.


FAVORITE TV SHOW/MOVIE: Duck Dynasty is the hottest show on TV. My favorite movie is Close Encounters of the Third Kind.


FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: Watching the horses train early in the morning – just the beauty of it, the horses silhouetted against the mist.


WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … I’d be in the marketing field.


ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN GOLF: Strive to become a PGA member, and work at as many facilities as possible to widen your experience.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Diana Pimental, Association Official

A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their favorite sport

Diana Pimental’s experience as a jockey’s agent, both here and at Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts, is invaluable on those hectic mornings when the Tampa Bay Downs racing office is scrambling to recruit horses to fill a card. “Diana can hustle a race,” said Racing Secretary Allison De Luca. “If you give her one to fill, it will go.” Pimental is in her 11th season at Tampa Bay Downs and fourth as placing judge during afternoon racing, when she works with fellow officials Ed Cantlon and Jen Moore. “It’s my job to make sure the correct numbers are posted during a race and after the finish,” Pimental said. “We do have fans who tell us after a photo finish they could have sworn their horse won, but the camera doesn’t lie.” As an agent, Pimental’s Tampa Bay Downs clients have included Jesse Garcia, Pedro Cotto, Jr., Jose Bermudez and Edwin Molinari. She still “hustles book” at Suffolk and will work there this season for jockey Hector Ramos. John Pimental, Diana’s husband, is a successful trainer who conditions the popular gelding National Hero, a winner of 15 of 39 lifetime starts who won consecutive Joseph E. Carney Memorial Awards as New England’s Champion Turf Male at 8 and 9 years old. The Pimentals have three daughters: Tabitha and Jennifer are in the bakery business and Kasie, who lives in Germany, is a schoolteacher. They also have six grandchildren, including Kasie’s son Jonathan Oswald, a winning pitcher for the Ramstein Air Force Base team at the 2010 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

HOMETOWN: Attleboro, Mass.


BEST HORSE I’VE EVER SEEN: Cigar was the best male horse I’ve watched, and Zenyatta was the best female. (Trainer) Bill Mott let us come to his barn to meet Cigar when he ran in the Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk in 1995 and ’96, during his 16-race winning streak. What a thrill that was!


HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: My husband’s late father was also a trainer, and John was an exercise rider for his dad. I worked in a shoelace factory and as a cook in our girls’ school, but I was just waiting for them to get older so I could get involved in racing. I was an owner and an assistant for John at first, but (jockey) Julian Vazquez kept begging me to become an agent, and I’ve been doing that almost 25 years.


MY BIGGEST INSPIRATION: My husband. He’ll train horses in the morning and pony horses during the races. His work ethic has always been a great example.


CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: Find a way to provide more insurance coverage for jockeys who are hurt or disabled.


MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAMS/ATHLETE: The New England Patriots and Tom Brady. I love all the Boston teams.


NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST: Take a vacation to Disney World for a week. We love it, but we’ve only stayed a day at a time.


FAVORITE TV SHOW: Survivor. My favorite player is Boston Rob.


FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: I get to work with one of my best friends, (Stakes Coordinator) Gerry Stanislawzyk. I love working with everyone here. It’s a rewarding feeling when we know we’ve put together a real good card.


WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … I probably would open a day-care center. I let everybody’s kids hang out with me at Suffolk.


ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Always love your horses and treat them like your favorite pet.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Angel Serpa, Jockey


A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their
favorite sport

Angel Serpa doesn’t mince words when discussing his career goals. “I want to stay healthy, keep going and one day be in the same position as John Velazquez or Ramon Dominguez,” the 25-year-old Serpa says. “I want to be a Hall of Fame jockey.” Thus far, his ambition is matched by his insatiable desire to acquire knowledge from many of the sport’s best. Starting off at Philadelphia Park (now Parx Racing) in 2009, he received guidance from Tony Black and brothers C.C. and Carlos Lopez. As an apprentice at Aqueduct in 2010, Serpa absorbed insights from Hall of Fame member Edgar Prado, even retrieving Prado’s discarded program from the trash can at day’s end to study the veteran’s notations and comments. In his second season at Tampa Bay Downs, Serpa credits Daniel Centeno, Willie Martinez and Scott Spieth, among others, for their guidance. Serpa, who finished third in the jockey standings here last season with 72 victories, is neck-and-neck with Centeno for the top spot this season. Serpa also leads the local colony this season with three stakes victories; last year, he won the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes and the $75,000 Florida Cup Turf Classic on Roman Tiger and the $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes on Salad Girl. Born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Serpa was a finalist for an Eclipse Award as Outstanding Apprentice Jockey in 2010, when he won 105 races and amassed earnings of almost $3.5-million. Serpa is married to fellow jockey Carol Cedeno, who is 15th in the current standings with 15 victories. They have two children: Angelica, 4, and Dylan, 1 ½ (Serpa’s oldest daughter, 5-year-old Emmaries, lives with her mother in Puerto Rico).



HOMETOWN: Long Branch, N.J.


BEST HORSE I’VE EVER RIDDEN: Speak Logistics, who I rode in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year at Santa Anita and in the Sam F. Davis Stakes for trainer Eddie Plesa, Jr. I rode him when he broke his maiden at Monmouth last summer, and when he won the Florida Stallion Stakes In Reality Division at Calder. I knew from the first time I rode him he was different. He is a smart horse that will do whatever you want.


HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: I always was around horses in Puerto Rico, from the time I was a young boy. When I was 18, I went the horse racing school in Canovanas, which is where I also met Carol. A friend introduced me to trainer Javier Gonzalez, and he brought me to Philadelphia, where I won my first race.


MY BIGGEST INSPIRATION: My family, and my kids. I like my job and I want to do well for them.


CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: Raise the scale of weights for jockeys. I don’t have too many problems, but it’s not nice when you have to go to the hotbox for an hour. You’re not always as strong as you should be.


MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM/ATHLETE: The New York Yankees and Felix “Tito” Trinidad, the former world welterweight, junior middleweight and middleweight boxing champion from Puerto Rico. I played second base when I was a kid, and I train with Daniel Santos, the professional champion boxer.


NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST: I’d love to go skydiving. Jumping from that high would be amazing.


FAVORITE TV SHOW/MOVIE: Pegate al Mediodia on WAPA-TV and Man on Fire.


FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: The weather and the turf course. The turf course here is flatter than a lot of tracks, which helps you keep position, and it is always in great shape.


WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … If I wasn’t a jockey, I would be a barber. I cut my own hair and some of the other jockeys,’ like Jose Angel Garcia and Victor Santiago.


ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Stay focused on doing your job, no matter how much money you make. Listen to the older jockeys, try to respect everybody and don’t make the same mistake twice.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Maria Kabel, Assistant Trainer

A Tampa Bay Downs insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their favorite sport


Cincinnati native Maria Kabel faced a crossroads when she was 25: move to Florida with the Golden Skates speed roller-skating team, or make a living working with horses. Although the Golden Skates were ranked No. 1 nationally, Kabel’s background showing hunter-jumpers stoked her passion for all things equine, and she has been in the Thoroughbred game ever since. An assistant the past 16 years to William “Buff” Bradley – the trainer of 2012 Eclipse Award-winning Female Sprinter Groupie Doll – Kabel is in her second season handling Bradley’s string at Tampa Bay Downs. Kabel started on her own buying retired racehorses off the track and reselling them for show careers, then worked at River Downs for trainer Bill Sweeney before joining forces with perennial leading Turfway Park trainer Arthur Zeis. In 1994 Zeis entrusted a 5-year-old gelding named Distinguished Bid to Kabel’s care, and he won seven races in a row at Turfway in a 14-week span. Kabel, who lives on the Bradley family’s Indian Ridge Farm in Frankfort, Ky., galloped and groomed their outstanding gelding Brass Hat, who won nine stakes (including the Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream) and more than $2-million in his seven-year career. Brass Hat resides on Kabel’s end of Indian Ridge Farm. She has broken the 12-year-old to Western tack, and she and Buff ride him on trails around the property. Brass Hat always will have a special place in Kabel’s heart, but 5-year-old Groupie Doll – bred by Buff and his father Fred out of their mare, Deputy Doll – has achieved even more, with a five-race graded winning streak last year capped by her tour de force in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Santa Anita.




HOMETOWN: Frankfort, Ky.


BEST HORSE I’VE EVER BEEN AROUND: Groupie Doll trumps Brass Hat. When I got to Santa Anita for Breeders Cup week, she was bucking and jumping around in her stall, and on the way to the track for her works I had to run behind her to keep up. She worked three-eighths in 34 and change, and it didn’t even look like she was going fast.


HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: I competed in my first horse show when I was 13. We had a couple of Thoroughbreds and a really cool half-Arabian, half-Quarter Horse we named Gray. A woman named Karen McCleary kept layups at the same farm where I kept my show horses, and I rode her horses and started liking it. I groomed and galloped for her, and that’s how I learned before I went to work for Bill Sweeney at River Downs.


MY BIGGEST INSPIRATION: Buff’s father, Fred Bradley. He is an amazing man who has been a lawyer, a judge and a state senator, flown fighter planes and raced cars. I look up to him.


CHANGES I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: Establish unified national racing rules and put more money into drug detection to find the cheaters.


MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM/ATHLETE: I follow the Cincinnati Bengals religiously. My favorite athlete is Groupie Doll. She is a sound, tough, iron mare who can put up with a lot.


NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST: Visit New Zealand, go hiking and see the country.


FAVORITE TV SHOW/MOVIE: Grey’s Anatomy and Gone with the Wind.


FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: It’s so horse-friendly. My horses get out in the round pens at least twice a week to jump around and have fun.


WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … I’d probably be an interior decorator. I like to decorate everything; it’s my second passion.


ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Start slowly and have realistic expectations. Too many people go overboard and don’t last in the business.