OLDSMAR — They awaken before the rooster crows to care for the horses they love. They work on the Tampa Bay Downs backside, where grooming, bathing and feeding are prerequisites before any race is run.
"The backside workers help put the show on every day," trainer Anthony Granitz said. "They're very important."
More than 400 individuals work on the backside. Granitz, 47, who has 846 career victories and more than $15.5 million in purse earnings, employs five at his 15-horse stable: assistant Juan Gongora, exercise rider Francisco Veloz and the Uribe brothers, Adrian, Jorge and Pedro, all grooms. Granitz, a husband and father to three daughters, said his workers, all from Mexico, are like a second family.
"Juan has been with me for 20 years," Granitz said. "He has three children and a wife. I've seen all his kids grow up, and we've been a family for a long time. Juan's dad also used to work for me. And it's exciting to have the three brothers because they communicate well and get along great."
When the workers' daily responsibilities are complete, the Downs division of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America offers support. A nonprofit organization, the group helps backside workers with programs including church services, counseling, English and computer classes, softball, soccer and fishing trips. Sharyn Wasiluk is president of the Downs chapter.
Substantial revenue for the projects is generated through the group's annual fundraiser, Hearts Reaching Out, this year on March 7. The benefit is composed of a golf tournament, a dinner and an auction. The four-person scramble golf event is at 11 a.m. at, for the first time, Cheval Golf and Country Club in Lutz. The dinner and auction are at 5:30 p.m. at the Downs tent pavilion near the paddock. The auction features racing and sports memorabilia. For information, call (813) 494-1870 or (813) 298-1576.
Granitz, president of the chaplaincy group's Illinois division, will be the auctioneer.
"The fundraiser is a big highlight for the chaplaincy," he said. "The money raised is for use all year and benefits the workers."
MORE HORSES: Grade II winner Striking Dancer is the 2-1 early-line favorite for today's $50,000 Wayward Lass Stakes (Race 8, 3:54 p.m.) at the Downs. … Trainer and co-owner Cathy Cole-Rivera recorded her first career win Thursday when D'coffee Cat broke his maiden under jockey Jorge Guerra.
GREYHOUNDS: Unbeaten Odd Inspector is the points leader with 32 as the $64,000 Sprint Classic enters third-round qualifying tonight at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg. Aerial Battle, a 2010 All-America second-team choice Monday, is second with 26. Both are in Race 6 (8:55 p.m.). The other qualifier is Race 10 (10:11). All-America team captain Flying Coal City has been eliminated.