Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Fundraiser to help Tampa Bay Downs' backside

OLDSMAR — Kathleen O'Connell had no outside issues to deal with when she saddled Watch Me Go in the 2011 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Back at Tampa Bay Downs, her home track, assistant trainer Brian Smeak and other staff members had things well under control.

"The (track) backside is important. It's the whole backbone of our industry," said O'Connell, a two-time Oldsmar training champion with more than 1,400 lifetime wins. "People don't realize without grooms, hotwalkers, pony personnel and gallop people, there is nothing left. Without them, you don't have horses going to the big dances. They're the unsung heroes."

O'Connell is a regular attendee of the Hearts Reaching Out fundraiser, an annual event sponsored by Race Track Chaplaincy of America, Tampa Bay Downs Division. It benefits hundreds of backside workers who care daily for the horses. Computers, English classes, worship services, sports and other activities for backside help are funded by the event.

The March 5 fundraiser begins at 11 a.m. with a four-person scramble golf tournament at Cheval Golf and Country Club in Lutz. A dinner and auction with racing and sports memorabilia follows at 5:30 p.m. at the Downs pavilion tent near the paddock.

Former Bucs running back Michael Pittman, jockeys and trainers are expected to play in the tournament. The fundraiser is open to the public. For information, call Sharyn Wasiluk at (813) 494-1870 or (813) 298-1576.

Smeak, 57, has been in the thoroughbred business for 35 years, the past 13 with O'Connell.

"(Backside workers) allow Kathleen to have a 40-horse outfit," he said. "Grooms take care of the horse from the feet up to the mouth seven days a week starting at 5 in the morning. They clean stalls, brush the horses, give them baths and take care of their legs. You have to make feed, come back for night-time feeding and check on the horses until the next morning. Without a good groom, your horse is not going to be happy and healthy.

"You have to have good grooms, good exercise riders and a trainer that's knowledgeable in watching what's going on both on the race track and in the barn."

MORE HORSES. Duke of Mischief goes for his fifth career graded stakes victory in the Grade III $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes today (Race 9, 4:10 p.m.) at the Downs. … Sunday, Kentucky Derby contenders Algorithms, Discreet Dancer and Union Rags are entered in the Grade II $400,000 Fountain of Youth (Race 11, 5:13) at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.

Dogs: Third-round qualifying in the $64,000 Sprint Classic resumes tonight in Races 6 (8:55) and 10 (10:11) at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg. … Maria Mandalena, who began her career with J.E. O'Donnell Jr. kennel at Derby Lane, won the $75,000 World Classic on Feb. 17 at Mardi Gras in Hallandale Beach.

Fundraiser to help Tampa Bay Downs' backside 02/24/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 24, 2012 9:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Late Holy Names swimmer Cailin Cannella was a fighter until the end

    Swimming Preps

    At swim meets, Cailin Cannella would race side-by-side with her breastroke competitors, their heads bobbing in near unison.

    Holy Names swimmer Cailin Cannella, here at age 13, still was practicing last year after finding out she had osteosarcoma (bone cancer). [Times 2016]
  2. Gators roundtable: Was that really a Hail Mary?


    Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks' last-second heave beat Tennessee Saturday in Gainesville, but was it a Hail Mary, typically a pass made in desperation with little chance of success? The Times' college football coveage team weighs in:


    Feleipe Franks #13 of the Florida Gators celebrates with his teammates after he threw a 63-yard pass at the end of the game to defeat the Tennessee Volunteers 26-20 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
  3. Mikhail Sergachev to debut for Lightning tonight


    For touted prospect Mikhail Sergachev, his audition to make the Lightning takes another big step tonight in his exhibition debut in Carolina.

    Touted prospect Mikhail Sergachev will make his exhibition debut tonight in Carolina.
  4. Commitment to change already evident for Wesley Chapel


    WESLEY CHAPEL — One stands 6 feet 9, holds numerous college offers and has already verbally committed to play at Florida State. The other goes about a foot shorter and could stand to put on a few pounds.

    Wesley Chapel's Chaz Neal (60) pumps his team up before a football game against Land O' Lakes in Wesley Chapel, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.
  5. Rick and Tom podcast: Annoyance with the Cubs fans at Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tom Jones talks about how he shares Chris Archer's annoyance with all of the Cubs fans at Tropicana Field for Joe Maddon's return in the latest edition of our Rick and Tom podcast.

    "W" flags fly in the stands after the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Rays Tuesday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]