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Published Feb 16, 2024
by Mike Henry
Boot Barn Trainer of the Month Derek Ryan, who is leaving for Saudi Arabia on Sunday to send out Book'em Danno in the Saudi Derby on Feb. 24, grazes his 4-year-old filly Angelas Party Girl this morning.

For all the outstanding horses, champion trainers and jockeys and millionaire owners who have visited Tampa Bay Downs over the past few decades, many insiders believe the track’s heartbeat originates from a nondescript trailer in the middle of the track’s backside.

It’s the headquarters for the Oldsmar oval’s Race Track Chaplaincy of America division, which ministers to racetrack workers’ spiritual, emotional, physical, social and educational needs.

Alex DeLima, in his second season as Chaplain, believes happy grooms, hotwalkers and stable hands make for a positive environment that lifts the entire community. More important is addressing individual situations faced by backstretch residents who are new to Tampa Bay Downs and the area.

“I think we are making a good impression on the people here,” DeLima said, “and if they are happy, everything goes a lot better.”

While DeLima conducts his daily walk in an effort to spread his belief in God’s word as all-powerful and enduring, arrangements are underway for the 32nd annual Hearts Reaching Out Golf Tournament on March 4 to benefit the RTCA-Tampa Bay Downs Division.

The tournament, which employs a four-person scramble format, will be played at Lansbrook Golf Club in Palm Harbor beginning at 1 p.m. The cost is $110 a player, which includes a boxed lunch, range balls, on-course contests and beverages and a goody bag.

Individuals and groups may sponsor a hole for $150 or four holes for $500. Organizers are also seeking items that can be used for prizes, such as gift cards, restaurant certificates and golf-related items.

Donations are also being accepted. All proceeds benefit the RTCA-Tampa Bay Downs Division.

‘The tournament helps us to connect to other racetrack groups, including owners and trainers,” DeLima said. “It unites people and helps us support the workers.”

DeLima, whose three children play music during the well-attended Tuesday night chapel services, brings a family-oriented approach to his job. The track has provided a 30-passenger bus for chaplaincy use this season, and DeLima has made the most of it, arranging trips to The Florida Aquarium in Tampa; Maple Lanes Countryside, for bowling; ZooTampa at Lowry Park; Brooksville, to a U-Pick strawberry farm; and the Florida State Fair.

“I think they help with stress relief,” DeLima said of the outings. “It’s a good opportunity for people to socialize and get to know each other.”

A deep-sea fishing trip is planned for March 11, along with a couple of trips to Clearwater Beach. Other upcoming events include a visit to a Brazilian steakhouse and a series of movie nights in March. Almost 300 people attended the chaplaincy’s Christmas party, which was held at the track.

DeLima stresses that it is the chaplaincy’s day-to-day operations that matter most. The trailer is open six days a week, with breakfast available from 7:30-11 a.m. English language classes are conducted Monday and Tuesday from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. DeLima takes workers to a supermarket or laundromat a couple of days a week, and the chaplaincy also helps with medical, dental and legal issues.

If all that sounds like a lot, well, welcome to racing’s age of enlightenment. Working with and around racehorses is physically and mentally demanding, and the days are long past when track officials could fall back on the line about these being jobs “nobody else will do.”

DeLima believes that if the pride backstretch workers already take in caring for Thoroughbreds can be raised a notch by giving them fun times along the way, then that’s the way to go.

“We remodeled the inside of the chaplaincy this season, and people feel very welcome,” he said. “They have time to sit down and socialize when they have a break from training hours, and that makes my job easier.”

Individuals wishing to play in the golf tournament should call DeLima at (727) 242-2552 or Dr. Bill Owens at (813) 240-1340. They may also send an e-mail to owensbmcc@aol.com or visit facebok.com/TBDChaplaincy

They may also visit rtcatbd.square.site on the Internet to reserve a spot in the tournament or to make a donation.

Ryan is Boot Barn Trainer of the Month. Derek Ryan isn’t sure exactly what the study of environmental engineering entails. But the Boot Barn Trainer of the Month knows his 18-year-old son Christopher, who plans to study the field at a major university, wants to make a difference in improving the health and well-being of the planet and its inhabitants.

Although Christopher has no real interest in Thoroughbreds racing, he’ll accompany his dad to Saudi Arabia on Sunday for an all-expenses paid adventure of a lifetime, leading to Derek’s participation in the Group III, $1.5-million Saudi Derby on Feb. 24 at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh with his 3-year-old stable star, Book’em Danno.

Ryan has won with five of his 10 most recent Tampa Bay Downs starters, but it was Book’em Danno’s smashing 12 ½-length victory on Jan. 13 in the Pasco Stakes that energized the trainer and much of the Oldsmar racetrack community.

Just getting invited to the Saudi Derby is a dream come true for the conditioner, who began planning for the 1-mile race three months ago.

His New Jersey-bred gelding’s 4-for-5 career record includes three stakes triumphs. He will be ridden in the Saudi Derby by Irad Ortiz, Jr., who galloped him a mile-and-three-quarters on Tuesday at Gulfstream Park, a day in advance of Book’em Danno’s flight to Riyadh.

Ryan, who trains Book’em Danno for six partners comprising Atlantic Six Racing, LLC, doesn’t expect Christopher to experience an epiphany in regard to his views on racing, even if Book’em Danno wins and collects the $900,000 first-place prize. But training the speedy son of Bucchero who “likes to hunt” front-runners has provided a spark to his racing stable, which has contracted since the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States in 2020.

“I haven’t had much stock the last few years. This horse was a big surprise. I was getting ready to quit – the game is not the same,” said the 57-year-old Tipperary, Ireland product, who has trained on his own in the United States since 1996. “The big guys are getting bigger, and it’s harder to compete. I used to have 30 horses – I have 12 now. I’ll have a few more in the summer, but I had three 2-year-olds last year – that’s it. Two of them won and the other one is just about ready to run here.”

Yet like the vast majority of those in the business, Ryan lives, wakes and dreams for a horse such as Book’em Danno, who cost the partnership $30,000 as a yearling. He has earned $260,625 to date, with the chance to become a millionaire on Feb. 24.

Whether there’s a guiding hand involved, or mostly plain luck, or a little of both with a healthy dose of horsemanship thrown in, Ryan is counting his blessings. The trainer’s racing roots run deep –he galloped horses in Europe for trainers Criquette Head, Tommy Stack and Barney Curley and stateside for Bill Mott, Phil Johnson and Joseph Orseno – and when you boil it down, Ryan feels he is right where he belongs.

“Nobody figured a horse like this would be coming from Tampa,” he said. “I love this track to train on – that’s half the key. That’s why I came down here, to get a good race under him at the right time, and it’s all worked out.”

Around the oval. Jesus Castanon and Antonio Gallardo each rode two winners today. Castanon was aboard 3-year-old filly Hopesndreams in the first race for owner-trainer Mike Dini. Castanon added the seventh race on the turf on One Time Willard, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Barrister Breeding and trained by Patrick McBurney.

One Time Willard was claimed from the race for a hefty $50,000 by trainer Jorge Delgado for new owner Lea Farms.

That was the second victory today for McBurney, who won the second race with 4-year-old gelding Westover, a horse he owns in partnership with R U Packing Stable. Apprentice jockey Melissa Iorio was the pilot.

Both of Gallardo’s victories were on the turf. He won the fifth race on Irwani, a 5-year-old horse owned by Volver al Futuro and trained by Jose Francisco D’Angelo. Gallardo added the ninth and final race with Eyes On the King, a 4-year-old colt owned by M Racing Group and trained by Mark Casse.

Racing continues Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs with a nine-race card beginning at 12:17 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule and is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.









Boot Barn Trainer of the Month Derek Ryan, who is leaving for Saudi Arabia on Sunday to send out Book'em Danno in the Saudi Derby on Feb. 24, grazes his 4-year-old filly Angelas Party Girl this morning.

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