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.



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