Tampa Bay Downs is proud to introduce its blog, “Racing in the Sunshine.” By giving visitors an up-close and personal look at the majestic world of Thoroughbred racing, the sport’s participants – racing officials, horsemen, backstretch workers, trainers, jockeys and track employees – hope to entertain and inform fans everywhere.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Dennis Petrucelli, Clerk of Scales
insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their
Dennis Petrucelli orchestrates weigh-ins, juggles late rider
switches and interfaces with racing officials with the smooth grace of a
symphony conductor. Nothing seems to escape the notice of the former jockey, who
was a member of the Tampa Bay Downs riding colony from the early 1970s (when
the track operated as Florida Downs) until he retired from the saddle in 1983. After
a six-month stint in the U.S. Army at Fort Polk in Louisiana, Petrucelli began
riding in 1967 under contract to Del Carroll, Sr., the trainer of 1972
Preakness winner Bee Bee Bee. Petrucelli rode his first winner at the old Miles
Park Race Track in Louisville,
Ky. Among the Illinois
native’s top mounts were Abe’s Hope (a member of the same class as Buckpasser,
Graustark and Kauai King) and Illustrious, a son of Round Table piloted to
victory by Petrucelli in the 1969 Native Dancer Handicap at Bowie
When his jockey career ended, Petrucelli switched gears deftly, becoming an
assistant trainer under Sturges Ducoing and Dave Kassen for eight years. He
next took a warehouse job, but the siren call of the racetrack was too powerful
to ignore. Petrucelli has been a fixture at ArlingtonPark outside Chicago for more than 20 years, the first 18
as the colors man – the person in charge of jockey silks – and the past four as
Clerk of Scales. Last year at Tampa Bay Downs, he was an agent for jockey Dean
Butler. Petrucelli has a daughter, Stephanie, who works for Radiant Oil and
lives in the TampaBay area. His trademark
“Have a super sparkly day” reflects his approach to his job and the friendships
gained from a lifetime on the track.
HOMETOWN: Oldsmar, Fla.
BEST HORSE I’VE EVER
RIDDEN/SEEN: Illustrious and Kaskaskia were probably the two fastest horses
I rode. Illustrious set a track record of 1:09 1/5 for six furlongs in the
Native Dancer in 1969. It was a $25,000 race then, and now it’s $125,000.
Kaskaskia was a Florida-bred horse who I won with on the turf at Delaware Park
going five furlongs in 57 1/5, which was a track record, and 57 3/5 seconds. I
saw Dr. Fager run in Chicago,
as well as Secretariat and Cigar. Graustark was a great horse and Umbrella
Fella was a very fast sprinter. I think Personal Ensign was probably the best
filly that ever ran. I’ve seen a lot of good ones.
HOW I GOT STARTED IN
RACING: My baseball coach at Weber High in Chicago saw I couldn’t really hit the ball
and got me in touch with a guy at the Chicago Tribune who told me to see Del
Carroll, Sr., at the racetrack. I started out hot-walking horses and took care
of the ponies for a year before I ever got on a horse. It’s not like now, where
guys gallop for two weeks and get a jockey’s license.
INSPIRATIONS: My late parents, Angeline and Charles. My dad was a
tool-and-die worker and my mom took odd jobs to make ends meet. They showed me
the value of hard work. My dad was scared of horses, though, and wouldn’t get
in the winner’s-circle picture when they saw me win a race at Commodore Downs.
ONE CHANGE I WOULD
MAKE TO RACING: Less racing might actually improve the quality. Year-round
racing up north is hard on everyone, especially the horses. I’m also not a big
fan of Sunday racing.
MY FAVORITE SPORTS
TEAM: I root for the Chicago Bears, but I have fond memories of meeting the
old Yankees slugger Moose Skowron, who also went to Weber High. He told me
great stories about Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Joe DiMaggio and those great
NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET
LIST: I’d like to get a hole-in-one. I almost had two in one day, but I’m
SHOW: I’ve watched the Stephen King horror thriller DeadZone six times. Once
in a while, I watch the finals of Dancing
with the Stars.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: The
weather, the fans and all the old friends I get to catch up with when they ship
in to race.
WHAT ELSE I’D BE
DOING IF. … I’d probably be a multimillionaire computer programmer. I took
a test for IBM out of high school and got a real high score, but I was already
working at the racetrack for Del Carroll. Who knows what would have happened?
ADVICE TO SOMEONE
STARTING IN RACING: Sharpen your money-management skills, especially if you
want to be a jockey. And pick out a good gate rider and study how they break on
top, even on a horse that doesn’t show speed.