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.



Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dennis Petrucelli, Clerk of Scales

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


MY BIGGEST 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 teams.


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 still swinging.


FAVORITE MOVIE/TV SHOW: I’ve watched the Stephen King horror thriller Dead Zone 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.



Sunday, February 10, 2013

Stephanie Van Minos, Track Photographer

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

In her first racetrack assignment at Finger Lakes in Canandaigua, N.Y., Van Minos was preparing to shoot the finish when a horse blew the far turn, bolted to the outside rail and headed for the gap leading back to the paddock. Which was precisely where Van Minos was standing, focused on the finish line and blissfully unaware of her impending peril. Fortunately her boss, Tom Cooley, saw the situation develop and yanked her aside before she got run over. “He told me, ‘That’s the first rule of this job – keep your eyes peeled, because you never know what will happen,’ ” Van Minos recalled. A similar situation happened last season at Tampa Bay Downs during a turf race when a horse jumped the outside rail and continued down the grassy path between the two courses; Cooley screamed to Van Minos to watch out, and she dove under the rail just in time. In her eight years at the racetrack, Van Minos has developed into a consummate professional, smoothing over the rough spots when a horse gets fractious in the winner’s circle and turning out quality pieces of art for winning horsemen. Van Minos, who works in tandem with fellow Tampa Bay Downs photographer John Duca, doesn’t consider herself a Thoroughbred racing authority, but has learned Tampa Bay Downs beats upstate New York in the winter.




HOMETOWN: Rochester, N.Y.


BEST HORSE I EVER WATCHED: This is a stretch, but I’d have to say Mouse, the Miniature Horse and Tampa Bay Downs mascot. She brightens my day when I see her walking around the track greeting everyone.


HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: I graduated with a photography degree from the University at Buffalo. A friend put me in touch with (track photographer) Tom Cooley, and I went to the track to see what it was all about. I didn’t know anything about horses – and still don’t – but I knew about photography, so I got the job.


MY BIGGEST INSPIRATION: Music. It’s a huge part of my life. I love reggae music and Indie rock, love going to concerts, and I’ve even started playing the ukulele!


ONE CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: I think every racetrack should have a Thoroughbred adoption program right on the grounds, like they do at Finger Lakes. They do a great job of adopting out retired horses and trying to get them into new careers.


MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM: I’m not a big sports fan, but my dad would be disappointed if I didn’t say the Buffalo Bills. Growing up in my house, you were either a Bills fan or not allowed to live there.


NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST: To surf the waves in Hawaii. I’ve surfed in southern California and Cocoa Beach, which is probably my favorite spot in Florida.


FAVORITE MOVIES: The Goonies and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.


FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: The weather—you can’t get weather like this during the winter back home in Rochester!


WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … I’d be a starving artist, eating Ramen noodles. I’ve tried it before, selling still life and fine art pieces, but not enough to make a living.


ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: Have a good portfolio, and know your camera. And try to take the picture quick. There is a lot of finger-crossing when you take pictures of horses, because you never know what you’re going to get.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Jane Cibelli, Trainer

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

Jane Cibelli’s reputation for being a shrewd judge of horseflesh extends beyond her barns at Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream Park. At the 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Cibelli picked out Purple Egg for her Goodwood Racing II syndicate for the bargain price of $22,000. After winning his first two races in impressive fashion last summer at Monmouth Park and Parx Racing in Philadelphia, the gelded son of Lion Heart-Luminous Prize, by Prized, won the $75,000 Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 1. His beaten foes that day included Falling Sky, the winner of Saturday’s Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes. Purple Egg was sidelined until recently due to lingering effects from a fever, but is back to full health and training smartly. Cibelli, a native of Leicester, England, is tied for second in the Tampa Bay Downs standings with 14 victories, and her 40-percent strike rate is tops among all conditioners with 25 or more starts. She is also a healthy 6-for-30 at Gulfstream. Cibelli has won back-to-back training titles at Monmouth Park in New Jersey and was the first woman to top the standings at the summer showcase meet.




HOMETOWN: Odessa, Fla.


BEST HORSE I EVER TRAINED/WATCHED: In terms of accomplishments, my best horse was Chirac, a Sligo Bay gelding. In 2009, he won the Grade III Philip H. Iselin Stakes at Monmouth and the Skip Away Stakes, and the next year he was third in the Grade II Monmouth Cup Stakes. But I believe Purple Egg has the most potential of any horse I’ve trained and is a better horse than Chirac. Purple Egg still has to prove himself, though. The best horse I’ve ever seen is Zenyatta.


HOW I GOT STARTED IN RACING: From the time I was in school, I always wanted to work with horses, and by the time I was 12 I knew I wanted to train. I worked in a racing stable in the United Kingdom and came to the United States in 1983. I worked as an assistant exercising horses for Linda Rice, but I really committed myself to my career soon after I fell off a horse and broke my back.


MY BIGGEST INFLUENCE: One of my owners, John Hewitt, was a great inspiration to me. He overcame a lot to be successful in life, and he always showed faith in me and was very supportive. I’ve tried to glean as much information and knowledge as I could from everyone I worked for.


ONE CHANGE I WOULD MAKE TO RACING: Establish universal medication and licensing regulations. Especially when I’m racing in New Jersey, it’s difficult to manage because you’re shipping to other states where the rules for withdrawal times and licensing are all different.


MY FAVORITE ATHLETE: Zenyatta. She beat the boys, she beat the best in the world, and she made it look effortless. She should have gone undefeated.


NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET LIST: I’d love to go to China, see the Great Wall and experience that culture.


FAVORITE TV SHOW: Downton Abbey.


FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS: The track surface is very forgiving and great for getting horses fit.


WHAT ELSE I’D BE DOING IF. … Being a veterinarian would be an option. I’ve never had any doubts about working with horses.


ADVICE TO SOMEONE STARTING IN RACING: It takes discipline to be successful, and you have to be able to keep going through adversity. Just keep getting up and going to work. Good things happen if you’re honest and hard-working.