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JOCKEYS AND JEANS LUNCHEON IS SATURDAY; O’CONNELL NAMED TRAINER OF MONTH

Legendary jockeys Pat Day, Ramon Dominguez, Jacinto Vasquez and Walter Blum headline the lineup for the inaugural Jockeys and Jeans event, which will be held from 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs under the big tent just north of the paddock.
Proceeds from the luncheon and auction will benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF), a 501(c)(3) organization that provides financial assistance to 59 former jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries.
Tickets are $35 and may be purchased online at www.pdjf.org or by calling retired jockey and author Dr. Eddie Donnally at (818) 653-3711.
“We help quadriplegics, paraplegics and riders with brain injuries and other severe injuries,” said Nancy LaSala, the Executive Director of the PDJF. “We are always looking for ways to raise awareness of the PDJF. This is something (former) jockeys are putting on for jockeys, and I applaud them for wanting to do something locally.”
Dominguez, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a spill at Aqueduct in January of 2013 that forced his retirement, will be the event’s featured speaker. The 37-year-old Dominguez is an unpaid advocate for the work done by the PDJF on behalf of disabled riders.
Dominguez retired with 4,985 victories, winning Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Jockey in 2010, 2011 and 2012. His situation has raised awareness within the Thoroughbred industry of the long-term effects of concussions and head injuries on jockeys.
Other former jockeys expected to attend include Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mike Manganello, a former leading rider at Tampa Bay Downs; Patricia Cooksey, who rode more than 2,100 winners; Diane Crump, the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby; and Barbara Jo Rubin, the first woman to win a race at a recognized track.
Also expected are four-time Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey William Henry; Eibar Coa, who won more than 4,000 races before a racing accident three years ago ended his career; William Klinke, a former Tampa Bay Downs jockey known as “The Colonel;” Michael Straight, who rode his first winner in 2009 at Tampa Bay Downs a few months before becoming paralyzed from the waist down in a spill at Arlington; former Tampa Bay Downs jockey Darrell Brown; and Julia Brimo, who has made a remarkable recovery from a career-ending cervical spinal cord injury suffered in a spill at Keeneland.
Fans attending Jockeys and Jeans will have an opportunity to have their picture taken with the jockeys, enjoy a barbecue luncheon and beverages and bid on unique racing memorabilia. Attendees will receive an autographed commemorative poster. The gates will open at 11 a.m. There will be a general autograph session at 3 p.m. on the first floor of the grandstand.
Tampa Bay Downs jockeys will donate a mount fee on the day of the event.
O’Connell earns Trainer of the Month Award. With about 75 horses in training (40 at Tampa Bay Downs and 35 at Calder Race Course in Miami) and 30 employees, including her long-time Tampa Bay Downs assistant Brian Smeak, trainer Kathleen O’Connell qualifies on most fronts as a small-business executive.
A lifelong love of horses has enabled the Zerillo’s Italian Grill Trainer of the Month to establish a niche as one of the leading Florida-based conditioners in the business. Last year, during the 2012-13 Oldsmar meeting, she earned her 1,500th career victory with then-3-year-old gelding This One’s for Mel.
But things were just starting to heat up for O’Connell, who became the first female trainer to sweep either division of the Florida Stallion Stakes when her then-2-year-old Florida-bred filly Scandalous Act won the Desert Vixen Stakes, the Susan’s Girl and the My Dear Girl for breeder-owner Gilbert G. Campbell.
The O’Connell-Campbell combination almost went 6-for-6 in the Florida Stallion Stakes series, as their homebred gelding My Brown Eyed Guy captured the Dr. Fager Stakes and the Affirmed before finishing off the board in the In Reality.
For good measure, O’Connell sent out Campbell’s youngster Secret Kitten to victories in Calder’s Catcharisingstar Stakes and Cassidy Stakes.
O’Connell has achieved numerous milestones since starting her own stable in 1981. The Detroit native won the 1998-99 Tampa Bay Downs training title with 26 victories and shared it 11 years later with Jamie Ness, each saddling 51 winners.
O’Connell became the only woman to be leading trainer at Calder during the 2009-10 season, and three years later was the first female trainer inducted into the track’s Hall of Fame.
After winning the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby in 2011 with owner-breeder Gilbert G. Campbell’s Watch Me Go, O’Connell got the opportunity that spring to make the hallowed walk to the paddock to saddle the colt for the Kentucky Derby.
And last year – after Scandalous Act proved herself the top Florida-bred juvenile filly – the popular “K.O.” made her first Breeders’ Cup appearance with the filly in the Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita.
All memorable occasions, to be sure, as was her 1,500th career victory last season at Tampa Bay Downs with This One’s for Mel. But on a personal level, O’Connell says it is hard to top the evening of March 9, when she received four major honors at the annual Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Florida Champions Gala in Ocala.
Joseph and Arlene O’Connell, her parents, attended the awards banquet while visiting from their hometown of Eagle, Mich. Although her parents do not follow horse racing on a regular basis, it meant the world to have them share in the recognition.
In addition to Scandalous Act’s Florida-Bred Champion 2-Year-Old Filly honor, O’Connell collected hardware as leading Florida trainer of state-breds at Florida tracks by earnings ($1,623,507), wins (63) and stakes victories (seven, tied with Martin D. Wolfson).
“My parents are not into the sport like a lot of people. I think I have one picture of my dad in the winner’s circle,” O’Connell said. “So it was really special to have them with me at the banquet.”
One horse that has raced locally, the Joan Scott-trained Ruler of Love, was the Florida-Bred Champion 3-Year-Old Colt/Gelding.
With five victories at Tampa Bay Downs since March 7 – including an 18-1 upset by 4-year-old gelding Ten Pointer on March 16 and 6-year-old mare Sing Me a Lullaby’s 11-1 score on March 22 – O’Connell had climbed to third in the standings with 23 victories.
“We always try to have a diversified stable, and we have a good group of horses this year,” said O’Connell, who has nominated 10 to the Florida Cup on April 5. “I feel very blessed to have made a living at something I’m so passionate about.
“When it quits being exciting, that’s when it is time to quit,” she added. “It’s not like anyone is making a fortune off it. I’ve sacrificed relationships and my own personal family (life), because the hours are incredible.
“But since I’m the only one in my family who never graduated from college,” she added with a grin, “I feel the urge to excel. I went to the school of hard knocks.”
While Scandalous Act may not be ready for the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies on Florida Cup Day – she underwent surgery to correct an entrapped epiglottis soon after she returned to training following her sixth-place Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies finish – O’Connell is optimistic My Brown Eyed Guy (Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore) and Legal Laura (Sophomore Fillies), both of whom have been training extremely well, will be ready for the April 5 showcase.
O’Connell is also high on the future prospects of her 4-year-old Kentucky-bred filly Street Gem, who is 5-for-12 lifetime including a pair of stakes victories at Monmouth.
“The Tampa Bay Downs meeting is always tough, but we’ve made a good representation,” O’Connell said. “I’ve loved Tampa for years, and it is always an honor to be recognized.”
On today’s card, jockey Antonio Gallardo rode two winners, scoring in the third race on 5-year-old mare Sugadadeze for owner William Rivera and trainer Saul Matos and in the fifth on 3-year-old filly Unspoken Rule for owner Arindel Farm and Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer Jamie Ness.
The long-shot special came in the eighth race, when jockey Olaf Hernandez piloted 4-year-old filly Jill’s Image to a front-running victory for breeder-owner Rise Family Stable and trainer Alejandro Reyes. Jill’s Image paid $86 to win.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. There will be a Pick-5 carryover of $22,968.90 and a Super High-5 carryover of $11,161. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.
 

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