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Church services unite Tampa Bay Downs horse track workers

OLDSMAR — A generation apart, two grooms stood together, sharing fellowship after a Monday night church service on the Tampa Bay Downs backside.

John Trent, 56, a Detroit native and retired Chrysler employee, reflected on working with thoroughbreds for more than 30 years. Vince Lepiane, 18, a former exercise rider born in Russia, chatted about being at Oldsmar to escape the Pennsylvania cold.

Their conversation was brief; both had horses to care for at 4 the next morning. Work days for Trent and Lepiane are often long but broken up by church services and other activities sponsored by the Downs' Division of Race Track Chaplaincy of America, part of a nonprofit organization that aids track backside groups.

"I want to make it fun (for the workers)," Downs RTCA president Sharyn Wasiluk said. "I want to create a little home away from home for them."

The Downs and its horsemen contribute financially to the RTCA, allowing more than 400 backside workers to participate in programs such as counseling, English and computer classes, and a soccer league.

The RTCA's Hearts Reaching Out fundraiser on Monday is equally important, last year amassing $25,000. Open to the public, the benefit starts with a golf tournament at 11 a.m. at Wentworth Golf Club in Tarpon Springs. It concludes with a dinner and auction at the Downs' tent pavilion near the paddock, beginning at 6 p.m. For information, call (813) 494-1870 or (813) 298-1576.

On Friday, the Downs hosts a new thoroughbred owner seminar, beginning at 8 a.m. To register, call (859) 276-2291 or go to Festival Day, featuring the Grade III $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby, is March 13.

Wasiluk gets support from Chaplain Rafael Santana, treasurer Bill Owens and administrative assistant Kathy Hand. They are available when tragedy strikes. Twice this season, exercise riders have been fatally injured in horse-related accidents at the Downs. Felipe Sosa, 66, a Venezuelan native, died in November; Robert Shields, 60, was killed in February. The RTCA held a memorial service for Mr. Sosa attended by more than 60 people and a church service for backside workers in honor of Mr. Shields.

MORE DOWNS: Arson Squad has the rail in today's $65,000 Challenger Stakes (Race 7, 3:16 p.m.). … A memorial service for former track vice president and general manager John Grady, who died Feb. 26, is at 2 today at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, 501 E Madison St., Tampa.

GREYHOUNDS: Lamorge Streaker seeks her 75th career win tonight in the $85,000 Sprint Classic final (Race 10, 10:11 p.m.) at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg.

Church services unite Tampa Bay Downs horse track workers 03/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 5, 2010 9:27pm]
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