Conditioner's first winner in 1978 came at Narragansett Park with 17-year-old Golden Arrow, a feat recognized in Sports Illustrated magazine; Juan Carlos Avila, trainer of Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner King Guillermo, is Rumba Island Bar & Grill Award winner.
Bill Sienkewicz, who achieved his first victory with his first career starter in 1978 at Narragansett Park in Rhode Island, has announced his retirement from training.
The 66-year-old Oldsmar resident is giving his four remaining horses to fellow trainer Ned Allard. “I’m happy to give them to Ned because we’ve been lifelong friends,” Sienkewicz said.
A Massachusetts product, Sienkewicz has won 256 races in his career while competing up and down the East Coast at Narragansett, Suffolk Downs, Rockingham Park, Delaware, Monmouth, Parx Pacing, Penn National, Laurel and Tampa Bay Downs, where he has trained the last seven years.
Sienkewicz ran two horses today. His 3-year-old gelding Strum and Pluck finished sixth in the fourth race on the turf and his 3-year-old filly Smarty Cat was eighth in the sixth race, the Lambholm South Race of the Week, on the turf.
His decision, Sienkewicz says, has nothing to do with the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis or the sport’s challenging economic landscape. “I’m leaving this game without owing one person one dime, and I’m proud of that. I’ve had all this responsibility all these years and I never felt like it was weighing on me, but now that it’s gone, I feel a burden has been lifted from my shoulders.”
Sienkewicz, who has three adult children living in Massachusetts, said he has no definite plans beyond slowing down and traveling with his partner, owner Josie Gump, when coronavirus abates. “I might go up to Colonial Downs (in Virginia) and work in the starting gate, if they race, and I plan to visit some friends I haven’t seen in a long time,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy my life.
“I’m going to miss everybody in this business. I’ve met so many wonderful people in racing, and I’m extremely appreciative of all the people who have worked for me the last 45 years and all the owners who have entrusted me enough to put their horses in my care,” he said.
“It’s 45 years of having a horse in my hands every day, that’s all. I’ve worked hard, and I think I deserve it.”
Sienkewicz scored his initial victory 42 years ago in a 5-furlong claiming race at Narragansett with the 17-year-old gelding Golden Arrow, who paid $71 to win. He had trained Golden Arrow at his Land’s End Farm in South Dartmouth, Mass., with his ex-wife Phreddy jogging and galloping the horse on the beach alongside nearby Buzzards Bay.
The feat of winning a race at 17 landed Golden Arrow and Sienkewicz in the Sept. 3, 1979 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. Golden Arrow, meanwhile, had won for the 58th and final time in his 176-race career on Sept. 25, 1978 – Sienkewicz’s 25th birthday – at the Great Barrington Fair in Massachusetts.
Other top horses trained by Sienkewicz include Zefiro, a 6-year-old who was 10-for-38 lifetime with earnings of more than $200,000, and the retired Florida-bred gelding Professor Palmer.
Sienkewicz still gets goose bumps recalling a victory at Saratoga in 2010 with 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding Western Tease, the horse’s seventh victory from seven career starts.
“Horses grab hold of you,” said Sienkewicz, who began working with show horses when he was 13. “Once I got around horses in the eighth grade, it was like a disease. That’s all I wanted to do.”
Avila is Trainer of Month. Juan Carlos Avila won almost 3,000 races and 12 graded stakes during his 30-year Venezuelan training career, including the Group I Clasico del Caribe in 2012 at Camarero Racetrack in Puerto Rico with El de Chine and the Group I Copa Velocidad in 2005 with Furioso.
But it is unlikely any of those successes could have prepared the 56-year-old conditioner for the incredible scene that unfolded on March 7 during Festival Day 40 at Tampa Bay Downs.
First, Avila saddled his 4-year-old colt Trophy Chaser for a victory in the Grade III Challenger Stakes, which was being run as a graded race for the first time in its 29-year history.
Three races later, Avila and jockey Samy Camacho pulled off the shocker, winning the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby with 3-year-old colt King Guillermo, owned by retired major league baseball star Victor Martinez’s Victoria’s Ranch.
King Guillermo, a 49-1 shot, toured the mile-and-a-sixteenth in 1:42.63, the third-fastest time in the 40-year history of the race. The two major victories on the track’s biggest day of racing led to Avila’s selection as the Rumba Island Bar & Grill Trainer of the Month.
Avila’s joy was palpable in the winner’s circle after both races, but the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby was a moment to cherish. “This race was perfect,” he said of King Guillermo’s triumph. “Thirty years training horses, and I’ve never seen a horse run like that.”
The ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis has derailed Avila’s plans to train King Guillermo up to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, which has been rescheduled from May 2 to Sept. 5. If anything, the postponement gives Avila more time to reflect on his ability to prepare his son of Uncle Mo-Slow Sand, by Dixieland Band, to run his best off a 14-week layoff, following a third in the Pulpit Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream on Nov. 30.
No one who was at Tampa Bay Downs on March 7 is discounting Avila’s chances to again shock the racing world at Churchill Downs.
“Training horses is basically the same in Venezuela as it is in the United States, so he doesn’t feel any pressure,” said his son, Kendrych Avila. “He likes everything about Tampa; the dirt track is great, and there are a lot of good people there who treat you very well.”
Around the oval. Harry Hernandez and Samy Camacho each rode two winners today. Hernandez captured the second race on Sir Higgins, a 4-year-old Florida-bred gelding owned by DiBello Racing and trained by Kathleen O’Connell. Hernandez added the third race on the turf aboard Blue Mistress, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned and trained by Lester Barbazon, III.
Both of Camacho’s victories came on the turf course. He won the fourth race with Caramelito, a 3-year-old gelding bred and owned by Godolphin and trained by Eoin Harty. Camacho won the eighth race on Itsagimme’s Girl, a 5-year-old mare owned by Winning Stables and Martin Goodell and trained by Gerald Bennett.
Tampa Bay Downs will continue racing without spectators for the foreseeable future. Sunday’s eight-race card starts at 12:25 p.m. and Wednesday’s eight-race program begins at 12:40 p.m.
Fans are encouraged to wager on the races through various account-wagering sites such as NYRA Bets, DRF Bets and TVG, and they can watch the races on the track’s website, www.tampabaydowns.com . Race replays are also available on the website.