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.




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