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February 23, 2020


by Mike Henry
Proceeds from Monday's event benefit the track's "unsung heroes" -- grooms, hotwalkers, exercise riders and stable hands -- through the Race Track Chaplaincy of America--Tampa Bay Downs Division.

The biggest week of the 2019-2020 Tampa Bay Downs season gets underway on Monday, with the 28th annual “Hearts Reaching Out” Golf Tournament, Dinner and Charity Auction, all designed to support the Race Track Chaplaincy of America – Tampa Bay Downs Division.

Track officials, jockeys and trainers are among those expected to play in the tournament, which will begin at 11 a.m. at The Eagles Golf Club in nearby Odessa. The format is a four-person scramble, giving golfers of all ability levels a chance to contribute to their team’s success.

Dinner and the silent auction begin at 5:30 p.m. at Tampa Bay Downs on the first floor of the Grandstand, with the tournament awards presentation and live auction starting at 6 p.m. The cost for all activities is $125, with the dinner and auctions only $20.

The “Hearts Reaching Out” event is a warm-up for a spectacular day of racing on Saturday, March 7, Festival Day 40, with five stakes – four of the graded variety – worth a cool $1-million in total purse money. The lucrative card is highlighted by the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby for 3-year-old Kentucky Derby prospects.

Under the guidance of President Sharyn Wasiluk and Chaplain Pete Crisswell, the RTCA – Tampa Bay Downs Division ministers to the needs of the backstretch community by providing computer lessons, English language courses, church services and Bible study, as well as organizing an annual Christmas party, a fishing trip and soccer, volleyball and softball games.

The overriding mission, Wasiluk says, is to provide a welcoming haven for grooms, hotwalkers, exercise riders and stable hands who may be away from home, yet work diligently to care for the sport’s valuable equine athletes.

“I think we have a good group of people who work together well to get things done,” said Wasiluk. “I’m very hands-on, and (Crisswell) has been instrumental in getting churches and other groups back here to help people, whether it’s with clothes, foodstuffs or any other needs.

“The backstretch can at times be a stressful environment, and we want to make sure everyone is taken care of when a need arises and that they know there is a place (the Chaplaincy office) where they can come to relax and have someone to talk to.”

Sponsorship opportunities are available for “Hearts Reaching Out,” including a “Triple Crown” golf sponsorship for $2,500 which includes a foursome with golfer packages, a recognition sign at the event and the sponsor’s name on every hole sign. Individuals and/or companies may also sponsor a golf hole for $125.

Donors can purchase a sheet cake for $80, which includes their name on the cake table at the dinner, or a $30 bottle of wine for the auction.

Both silent and live auctions will be held. Auction items include a veritable cornucopia of racing items, including autographed photographs, paintings, whips and halters, as well as gift certificates, gift cards, theater tickets, Dali Museum tickets and much more.

For additional details or to secure a spot in the tournament and/or at the dinner, call the Chaplain’s office at (813) 854-1313 or Wasiluk at (813) 494-1870. Dinner tickets are available at the Chaplain’s Office on the Tampa Bay Downs backside.