It is a good thing that Dr. Stephen Sinatra is an innovative, integrative, and invasive cardiologist. His decades of clinical experience in critical cardiac situations prepared him well for the “ups and downs” involved in breeding, raising, training, vetting, transporting and racing thoroughbred horses. It can be an emotional roller coaster of highs and lows; balancing wins and successes against injuries, heartbreaks, failures and loss – both at the track and at the bank.
As Dr. Sinatra energetically enters his 7th decade of life – a time when most people retire and head for a less stressful and demanding lifestyle – his commitment to horse racing is stronger than ever. And he means to bring all he has learned through his many adventures to his own animals. In addition to thoroughbred racing, this septuagenarian continues to enthusiastically participate in research and peer review medical articles, book authorship, product and website development, lecture and media events.
And then there’s his latest passion: creating high quality food products for people that are as pure as any found on the marketplace.
As you read further, you will see this commitment to natural approaches – deferring medication to healthy life-style choices, supplements, and fresh, nutrient-rich foods that nourish the body whenever possible — has never been limited to humans. After watching the positive results of using these same practices on his own family pets, he has been for many years been adding them into the care of his beloved horses. The culmination has been to find a farm of his own to incorporate all these beliefs into daily practice with his own special team — something he has finally accomplished in Maryland. After several years of refinement, Berkley Farm is now open to the public for the boarding, breaking, training, and rehab of their invaluable thoroughbreds.
After years of renovation and expansion, Sinatra Thoroughbred at Berkley Farm now offers concierge care of the equine. At this home of two-time Maryland Million Stakes Winner Admiral’s War Chest, Dr. Sinatra he has seen first-hand the results of the leading-edge approaches he has added to the already pristine 167-acre location. In addition to the top-notch feed program to be explained later, boarders can select from an array of additional services for optimal health and recovery, such as:
- Therapeutic massage
- Equiscope sessions (aka accuscope for humans)
- NES Treatment
- Chiropractic adjustment
- Grounded stalls
- Field exercise with horseshoes removed
And Dr. Sinatra is following the research daily to learn of more interventions to offer. But more details on the farm later. Looking at how it all evolved…
Father and Son
Like many of us thoroughbred racing enthusiasts, Dr. Sinatra can trace his love of the “Sport of Kings” back to his childhood. Growing up in suburban Long Island, his father “Charlie” took him to Belmont Park for a full card of racing before he was a teen. Even before he started playing football and hitting the wrestling mat, the inspired son was fascinated with the athleticism and beauty of the thoroughbred horse. The frequent father and son trips forged a solid foundation. In fact, despite his father’s admonishment save his money and never actually “own a horse”, the budding enthusiasm would follow him into a future of thoroughbred ownership lasting his adult lifetime. In fact, Dr. Sinatra would name one of his favorite sires Elusive Charlie, in honor of his dad.
Sinatra, like the racehorse, also has a strong athletic background. In fact, he trained and competed hard enough to put himself through college by earning a wrestling scholarship. No competitive sport more exemplifies the importance of combining a healthy diet, mental preparation, strength, endurance, persistence, precision and execution than that of college wrestling. And he would even come close to trying out for the Olympic team, so Sinatra knows by experience all about the “woulda- coulda”, agony-and-ecstacy sports competition moments forged in one’s memories: powerful lessons one never forgets. Just like in horse racing.
“Making weight” before each wresting meet was key, and the young wrestler witnessed first-hand the unhealthy methods some wrestlers chose to manage their weight. These early lessons and disciplines are still ingrained today as he maintains his commitment to fitness and strength training with frequent stretching exercises, flexibility drills, and cardiovascular exercise combined with a natural, organic diet and targeted nutritional supplements — and grounding to the earth.
The Early Years
After graduating from Albany medical school, establishing his cardiology practice, and starting a family, Dr. Sinatra heard the call to return to the sport of horse racing. A college friend invited him to invest in one of his horses. Sinatra’s early involvement in the sport during the 1970’s developed into partnerships, breeding and even claiming. One horse, NY Bred Snake Oil Stevie, out of Pass Catcher, was good enough to compete at both Belmont and Saratoga racetracks. He maintained Sinatra’s engagement in horse racing as he took his own teenaged son Drew to the track to watch the horse compete. Full cycle father and son.
Sinatra continued to race his horses on the East Coast, boarding them at several locations with several trainers. But with his limited time, budget and experience, the horses he owned were of average quality. None ever allowed him to affirmatively answer the question horse owners are asked at dinner parties — or any other time that they admit to having a thoroughbred:
“Have you ever had a horse good enough to run in the Kentucky Derby?”
Like so many other thoroughbred owners across the country, that seemingly unreachable goal slowly became Sinatra’s secret dream…
In the late 1990’s Sinatra ventured into the arena of World Class breeding. He expanded his business to purchase interests in some broodmares, one of which was named Sage Cat. The Tabasco Cat sired mare had a solid reputation for producing impressive, well confirmed foals. Sinatra and his partner made the decision to risk the 2005 investment to breed Sage Cat to a quality stallion, finally deciding to go to Street Cry.
In early 2006, Sage Cat’s physically striking foal was born. Even the grace, poise, and strength with which the colt walked was notable. It was decided to dub him Cry of the Cat, after his parentage.
After obtaining interest from many of Kentucky’s leading farms, the young colt was sold in the Keeneland September yearling sale. Eventually, Cry of the Cat was resold to Sheik Mohammed, who renamed him Desert Party; he was now a Godolphin Stable hopeful. As a 2-year-old, Desert Party made an impressive debut, even victorious in the Grade III Sanford Stakes. Godolphin shipped him to Dubai where he competed as a 3-year-old in the UAE 2000 Guineas—and won! http://i.bloodhorse.com/stallion-register/pdfs/desertparty.pdf
In 2009, Desert Party was entered into the Kentucky Derby https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=desert+party+injured+in+2009+kentucky+derby&qpvt=desert+party+injured+in+2009+kentucky+derby&view=detail&mid=01ED9E8F5B88F9FA9C9901ED9E8F5B88F9FA9C99&FORM=VRDGAR , along with his stablemate Regal Ransom. Finally, one of Dr. Sinatra’s dreams was being realized. Though he did not OWN a Kentucky Derby contender, he had bred one. And that was enough for his wife to book them seats so that they would be at Churchill Downs that first Saturday in May. They brought friends and family alike to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a horse running in first leg of the infamous Triple Crown.http://www.youtube.com/embed/zyE6hKfzkmc?wmode=opaque&enablejsapi=1
Sadly, Desert Party suffered an injury breaking out of the gate that day, but recovered to become a leading sire for Godolphin, standing at Darley Farm in Lexington. Another example of the heartbreaks of thoroughbred racing…
Throughout the years, Dr. Sinatra continued to increase the quality and quantity in his barn. Horse racing is not for the faint of heart. Neither is it always it a financially prosperous business. So, like his counterparts in thoroughbred horse racing, Dr. Sinatra financed his hoped-for expansion by selling off some of his foals. In 2014, his beloved Sage Cat was also sold at Fasig-Tipton. With necessary financial infusions, the farm and his dream continued to gain momentum…
As small successes with his thoroughbred operation began to accumulate, Dr. Sinatra was approached with an offer by Godolphin to “buy back” Desert Party in 2016. The doctor had sent many of his best mares to breed to Desert over the years. He made the decision to reconnect with his favorite stallion, who currently stands at Irish Hill farm in Saratoga New York . Under the guidance of Rick Burke, Dr. Sinatra recently reduced Desert Party’s stud fee to $2,500.
Realizing the mounting advantages of owning his own horse farm, Dr. Sinatra started looking in the 1990’s, starting close to his Connecticut home and cardiology practice. He checked out Massachusetts, where he had stood Snake Oil Stevie. He looked as well at a small farm in Saratoga, New York. After relocating to Florida, he even checked out several farms in Ocala near where he was boarding. But nothing quite fit.
Sinatra searched for a farm where he could maximize the physical environment and be able to but a care model based on his belief in high quality personalized equine care over maximizing medications. He envisioned the kind of concierge care for horses that he had trouble acquiring. You see, not all the farm mangers and trainers were not “on-board” with Dr. Sinatra’s requests for special feed, supplements, and alternative healing strategies for horses. They might agree to take their shoes off for a bit, to ground with the earth, or offer water training in a pool, but most had their own approach to training that they adhered to and had faith in.
After spending so much his career finding natural methods to treat a variety of medical issues, Sinatra found it as difficult to convince trainers and farm managers of his approach as it had been other doctors. A bit of a renegade in his own profession — authoring over 20 books about alternative medicine— Dr. Sinatra knew the ropes. And how to forge out on his own.
After looking at so many farms, the cardiologist had a mental list of the prerequisites he was looking for, but could not quite find:
- a fresh source of water, both for the animals and for a training track, the latter of which could minimize the impact on young horse’s joints
- a country setting that would provide a horse exposure to as much fresh air, open space, hilly terrain, and positive energy as possible
- turn out pastures safely enclosed with quality grass for exercise and grazing
As he was muddling over the feasibility of his prospects, a tragedy happened. Alan Murray, who owned Murmur Farm for breeding, and had just developed Berkley Farm for training, died suddenly of a heart attack. Sinatra has been boarding, breeding, birthing and training with Alan and his wife Audrey for years, and deeply respected how they operated their Maryland farms.
Eventually, Audrey and her son approached Dr. Sinatra about taking over the training facility he had watched Alan develop over the years. The location was perfect, in idyllic Darlington, Maryland just outside Havre de Grace. Dr. Sinatra stopped in regularly at Murmur and Berkley, as his publishing company was in Potomac, then moved to Bethesda. So, he knew the farms well.
He knew rural Berkley Farm to be convenient to I-95, providing the tranquil setting needed for the development of a horse. Murray had already built a 5/8-mile track, 3 barns, a breaking pen, and a European-style walker, and an indoor galloping arena to allow for year-round training, With over 160 acres, the farm had ground water wells, a small pond, and gentle, grassy slopes for horses to run free of their stalls—and plenty of potential for growth.
So, Dr. Sinatra consulted his financial advisors, and took the big step. He and his wife closed the deal on an auspicious date: her 65th birthday, and the birth of a strong foal out of Desert Party: General JC. Born in Saratoga at Irish Hill, “JC” resided and trained at Berkley farm, and is now in training with Ned Allard, at PARX.
After a time, it became evident that the 5/8-mile track needing some “tweeking”. Dr. Sinatra selected Randy Block and his company “Horse Track and Equipment” to renovate the track surface. The company is from Louisville and has built hundreds of racetracks around the world, including rehab work on Gulfstream Park. Then came a setback: that the farm soil was deficient in the clay that would provide the track a good cushion. Refusing to take shortcuts advised by some, Dr. Sinatra invested “whatever it took” to ensure the track surface was sufficiently cushioned and drained to prevent injuries in the training animals.
Dr. Sinatra continued to build on Alan Murray’s short-cutted dream. Equibase inspected the facility and endorsed it. Berkley Farm workouts are cited on the Racing Form under the symbol STR, for Sinatra Thoroughbred Racing. Horses prepping for the racetrack can now workout in the tranquil farm setting and have their times recognized as equal to those at the racetrack.
Great care has been taken to instruct all employees of the steps needed to maximize the care of the animals. Sinatra feeds non-GMO, high quality feed to the horses, as well as a regimen of vitamins and minerals he developed himself. Oats are even roasted over an open fire with special ingredients, and served fresh.
As space became available, Sinatra began to transfer more and more of his horses for training and recovery from tracks and other farms to Darlington.
Full time farm manger and trainer Corby Caiazzo stayed on when Dr. Sinatra purchased Berkley, continuing to reside on the farm with his wife Ali (LMT, who performs massage, NES, and equiscope on the horses) and his two children, who are developing into proficient riders and “horse people”. In fact, seeing Derek and Maddie come to the barns after school every day to pet and care for the horses is just another aspect Dr. Sinatra loves about the family-centered, personalized care the farm offers.
Dr. Sinatra saw almost overnight the effect of the Berkley environment (and the Caiazzo’s) on horses relocated there. Caiazzo was helping him to finally start realizing his dream. http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/harford/fallston-joppa/ph-ag-berkley-farm-1204-20151217-story.html The equines had more energy, their coats were shinier, they were healthier, and they benefited from the time in the fresh air of the paddocks and lush open fields.
Admiral’s War Chest (think War Admiral generations past), in particular, thrived on the farm environment and the Sinatra Concierge Care. The horse’s performance began to improve so dramatically, that he became a two-time winner of the prestigious Maryland Million Stakes Race.
Admiral’s War Chest Story
In October 2015, Admiral’s War Chest was entered in the Maryland Millions Classic. The Admiral was the poster child for the Sinatra approach to training the thoroughbred, receiving concierge care at Berkley. He was only lightly regarded by those wagering that day, but won the race in a narrow finish. https://marylandmillion.com/index.php/about/news/249-throwback-thursday-admirals-war-chest-wins-maryland-million-classic
Admiral proved this victory was not a fluke when he defended his title in 2016 winning the same race handily. Despite some slight injuries summer 2017, he prepares to hopefully defend his title later this month.
After years of work, setbacks and successes, Sinatra Thoroughbred Berkley Farm is “making strides’. As the momentum builds, Sinatra is offering more horses at sales. Like breeders everywhere, his heart wishes he could just keep every sweet foal frolicking in the pastures. The reality is that to get capital for the farm and racing operation, some treasured equines need to be sold.
Last week, Steve’s yearling, World Affairs — raised at Berkley Farm — was the sales topper at the Fasig-Tipton Mid-Atlantic Fall Yearling Sale.
With the bloodline and confirmation of horse-combined with premier care received at the farm – the horse went for an amazing final offer of $300,000. https://www.paulickreport.com/news/bloodstock/follow-first-session-fasig-tipton-saratoga-sale/
Because of the dedication to all involved — the Caiazzo family, the grooms, and the riders— Berkley continues to blossom and emerge. Admiral’s War Chest preps in hopes to have a third consecutive try at the Maryland Million Classic later this month.
Recent successes have Sinatra convinced that focusing on the natural methods of developing and healing the equine is the proper way. He has seen this in his human patients for years and after a long, trying foundation is beginning to see the results in his equine stock.
Sinatra did not invest in the Berkley Farm purely for the needs of his own thoroughbreds. Rather, he created the farm for other horse owners looking for individualized care, natural feed ingredients, and alternative medicine approaches so that they, too, would the place to send their horses that he could never find. The Berkley Farm provides a full range of concierge care from breaking, boarding and to recovery from injury, to layup after surgery.
Berkley Farm invites visitors to the farm. For more information, please check out www.racehorses.com. Or call the farm manager Corby at 443-472-3722.
Links for more information
- Broodmare sale for Berkley farm: http://www.drf.com/news/10000-broodmare-buy-hits-big-berkley-farms-sinatra
- Dr. Sinatra’s views on the pre-race dosing of Lasix (used to treat heart failure in humans): http://www.racehorses.com/lasix-forum/
- Berkley Farm Training Videos: http://www.racehorses.com/berkley-farm-video/
- Check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/racehorsescom
- Regal Ransom Remembered: https://www.darleyamerica.com/about-us/inside-darley/regal-ransom-remembered
- The horse that ran for Dr. Sinatra’s granddaughter who can’t: http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/racinghub/archive/2013/08/20/filly-runs-for-a-little-girl-who-can-t.aspx
by Tom Carley
My Monday started as few others had in the 45 prior Novembers of my life. Snow had fallen overnight and the temperature dipped below 15 degrees. Old Man Winter chose this weekend to make his annual appearance in the Midwestern town I call home. The usually uneventful trip to the office turned into a white-knuckled journey where I hoped my car did not join the others lining the ditches along the snow-covered interstate.
Once I got out of a morning meeting, I returned to my office knowing this day would be different. The empty offices and desks on my floor demonstrated how unproductive the day could be with the absence of support staff and researchers. I caught myself being lulled into a state of complacency and then I checked my inbox.
Scattered among the usual messages, advertising products I will not purchase or services that my company does not need, I found an e-mail that caught my eye. It was a picture of a horse on its hind legs playing in a snow-covered pasture. The horse looked familiar. I looked closer at the markings and saw that it was Blame. That Blame. The one that stared down Zenyatta and defeated her as no other horse had in her 20 plus races.
The picture (which is shown above) was a simple snapshot taken by an amateur photographer. It was not a staged shot or professionally done. However, this picture did more for me on this day than the finest work of Ansell Adams. As I sat there and looked at the picture, I could feel the cold breeze blowing across the pasture. I could hear the whistle of a winter wind and the knicker of a past champion who was simply enjoying the day. Horses love the cold weather and the first snow is always a sight as you see them walking cautiously, but then soon rolling among the white powder that covers the ground.
I leaned back in my chair and I literally could feel my pace slowing. No longer did that To-Do list look so daunting. No longer did I feel confined to the electric jungle in which I spend 50 hours a week. For those brief moments, I was a child again, running on an open range, breaking open lakes so lower-level claiming horses could drink. When I was a teenager I felt anger and singled out because my parents “made” me work with horses in the open air. As I have become a man, I now realize those were some of the best days of my life. Not only did I get to enjoy fresh air, but I also developed a work ethic that has helped me later in life.
My Father once told me that you do not realize the benefits of the lesson that you learn today for many years. I never believed that until I looked at that picture and plowed forward and made a dreary-day productive, thinking back to my days on the farm.
by Tom Carley
Horse Racing is known as “The Sport of Kings”. While this phrase brings to mind large rolling pastures on historic bluegrass farms to the well dressed fans attending the Derby to the Yuppies who flock to Saratoga instead of the Hamptons each late Summer weekend, a Wednesday stop at a local OTB today reminded me of a gem I discovered last year.
Located just north of the Kentucky-Tennessee state line lies Franklin, Kentucky. Known as the home of Professional Golfer Kenny Perry, the town also is home to Kentucky Downs.
Kentucky Downs is different from any other racetrack I have visited (this totals over 25). First of all it has only a turf course. Not a regular turf course, but rather one in which it looks like it was formed in your backyard. The circuit is shaped more like a pear than the traditional round oval. The racetrack is not level, more rolling and the horses climb an incline as they race toward the wire.
Those are physical differences from a traditional North American racetrack.
This racetrack also has a unique spirit.
No where are gates seen to exclude visitors. There are no well dressed men taking money for admission. Rather, patrons there are encouraged to bring their lawn chairs and place them on the rail, back up their truck to view the track and enjoy the action sitting on a tailgate in a way seen by those watching weanlings running in the pasture of a large farm. Fans do not purchase mint juleps and other high priced drinks from vendor’s carts. Instead they enjoy the drinks and sandwiches out of the coolers they packed at home.
People flock from miles around to take in the action. Not only do they cross state lines, but they cross the lines of socieo-economic differences as well as equine experience. A walk through the crowd saw everything from little kids enjoying watching the “horsies” to the hardened gambler constructing a multi-race wager.
For a sport that is losing fans as older fans pass on without an army of young fans to replace them, this racetrack is a refreshing break. It opens its arms and welcomes all, even those that that are just curious to see what all the hoopla is about. This is exactly what this sport needs, the removal of all barriers for future fans.
You have obviously come to this website because you are a fan of the sport. What sport combines the beauty of man & equine working in perfect harmony to reach a goal. There is no judge who arbitrarily selects who wins. The winner is determined simply by who reaches the wire first. However, if we do not introduce new people to the sport, then how will they ever become fans?
The sport needs to grow in order to thrive and survive. I challenge all of those reading this column to create your own version of Kentucky Downs. No, I am not asking you to spend the weekend installing rails and a finish line in your backyard. What I am asking each of you to do is to remove the barrier for one potential fan. Call a friend who has never experienced our sport and take them to the track. Drive them to the track, pay their way in, and show them how to read a form and make a wager. To paraphrase an old Lay’s potato chip commercial, “you can’t only attend once”. Just think what benefits this sport would enjoy if each of us created one new fan a year.
Everyone thinks they have it so tough. But if we would actually take a moment to look at those around us and the challenges they have to overcome, we would see that we do not have it so bad. Racing owner Stephen Sinatra’s granddaughter Cecilia is one of those who has it much tougher than most. But Cecilia never gives up, and neither did the horse named after her. Equine miracles are possible when love and energy between man and animal are exchanged.
The following is an almost unbelievable story of what happened when a horse named after a little girl received the natural care that only a grandfather could provide. The smile on Cecilia’s face in the winner’s circle was bright enough to light a city. It was the first time that almost 10-year-old Cecilia had been able to watch her namesake compete at the track. Considering that Run for Cecila was being powered by the spirit transmitted to her by the little girl she was named after, the other horses did not stand a chance that day. But no one realized that at the outset. It had taken years to get to this Godsend of a day.
Dr. Stephen Sinatra is a doctor who has written several books on medicine. He also has been an owner and a breeder, breeding Grade II winner and Kentucky Derby entrant Desert Party among other successful horses. He has researched equine nutraceuticals and has conducted double blind studies to find ways to treat inflammation and bleeding without medication. His granddaughter Cecelia suffers from a rare neurological condition (affecting one in every 400,000 people) that makes it very difficult for her to use her legs. Walking has become so difficult that she now relies on her wheelchair when walking more than short distances.
Instead of being angry and wondering “why me?” little Cecilia is thankful for what she does have. Her uplifting spirit was magnified one-thousand fold in the winner’s circle recently at Suffolk Downs as the picture of a lifetime was taken.
This story begins three years ago when Sinatra consulted his breeding partner and bloodstock consultant David Smith as to which one of his horses had the best breeding. Cecilia had once actually asked her grandfather to name a dog after her. When he said he would name a horse for her instead, she practically jumped for joy. Sinatra planned to keep that promise.
He explained to Smith that his granddaughter had recently begun to demonstrate the effects of a neurological condition. Nonetheless, cheerful Cecilia was a motivator, oftentimes reassuring others about her deteriorating issues with walking and balance. In fact a few years back, then 6-year-old Cecilia calmly reported, “I can’t run, and I can’t skip, but it’s okay Grandma.”
The teachers at her all-girl Catholic school and the dance classes that she would eventually have to give up were all inspired. Her physical therapy team–which administers hippotherapy weekly–continually report admiration for her attitude as well. For example, picture Cecilia’s mother and grandmother with tear-filled eyes as they watched her final dance recital. Meanwhile, Cecilia reveled in her on-stage seated position while the other girls danced around her. The little girl beamed with delight that she was “the star” that her teacher had told her she would be that Saturday. As her dad would say that afternoon, “Why are you crying? She’s having a ball!”
This brave and enduring little girl had shown a love for horses at an early age while watching the movie “Dreamer” about a little girl who loves and cares for a busted-up horse. At the time, Cecilia was sitting on the couch with a fractured leg of her own. When the grand finale race scene occurred in the movie, Jan witnessed her casted granddaughter jumping up and down, excitedly proclaiming, “We won! We won!” Cecilia’s grandmother tried to calm her jubilant grandchild so she wouldn’t tumble off the sofa; to the then 4-year-old Cecilia, the story was real life. But, wins like that usually happen only in the movies, right?
With the guidance of David Smith, the Sinatras finally selected a half-sister to multiple Grade I winner Subordination by Awesome Again a few years later. They named the horse Run for Cecila and reassured their little girl not to worry: the horse would run for her. Cecelia was so delighted that she didn’t even care that the Jockey Club got the wrong info, and would spell the filly’s name Cecila.
But as the equine Cecila began training at two, it soon became obvious that something just was not right. Cecelia’s namesake was not pushing off of her back legs. At first, it was believed that she suffered from shin splints. However, this was soon dismissed. Many experts looked at the horse, but none could determine what was afflicting her. The Florida trainer Sinatra employed at the time wanted to pin fire the young horse. Sinatra passed on the pin firing idea and sought other possible solutions, including a more precise diagnosis.
It was eventually discovered that the horse suffered from neurological problems — just like her namesake — and it was affecting her ability to bear weight on her back legs. At this point, neither the horse nor the child were able to run. It was both perplexing and heartbreaking. So, Sinatra, Smith and Corby Caiazzo — farm manager and trainer at Berkeley Training Center in Darlington, Maryland — went to Florida’s Gulfstream Park to see the filly and determine possible treatments for her condition.
After a dismal attempt at Monmouth Park, the horse was taken out of training and spent the next eight months healing under Caiazzo’s watchful gaze. Sinatra started to give the horse the equine supplements he had developed to reduce inflammation, and then came across an article about tocotrienols reversing neurological disease in the equine. He contacted the people in Asia who manufactured the product, and was told the vitamin was also successful in healing other animals, including dogs recovering from strokes. He ordered three quarts to be shipped from Asia and a tablespoon of this (1,000 times the power of traditional Vitamin E) was given to the filly each day. The horse responded to the treatment to the point of being able to jog, and then breeze. Eventually, Caiazzo had Run for Cecila strong enough to be able to return to the racetrack.
Meanwhile, the human Cecelia was undergoing therapy as well. The horse she had not yet met was never far out of her mind. Her grandmother texted and emailed photos. Cecelia kept a picture of the horse on her dresser. Her parents gave her the supplement program designed for her by her grandfather, who added tocotrienols after reviewing the research. Cecelia began undergoing equine therapy where she rode on the back of an older horse, and continued in physical therapy weekly. When one of her doctors commended her hippotherapy, she objected, “But I want to ride my own horse.”
In her very first race on the dirt at Gulfstream, the filly lost by 24 1/4 lengths. She tried next at Monmouth, losing by 28 1/4 lengths. After approximately 11 months off, with more TLC, acupuncture, the Thorpe Institute Equiscope, and massage, along with Sinatra’s equine supplements, including larger doses of tocotrienols, the filly returned at Parx with another dismal defeat: last beaten 17 1/2 lengths. She was switched to the turf was well-beaten at Atlantic City, then Delaware, then Colonial and again at Parx. It seemed Sinatra’s only hope was relegating his non-winning filly to the role of broodmare and that his dream of seeing his granddaughter witness the horse named after her win like Dreamer would never be fulfilled.
But Philadelphia-based trainer Ned Allard had one more prospect before they gave up. He suggested that Suffolk Downs might be the place for Cecila to finally prove herself and break her maiden. So, Sinatra contacted another trainer he knew who had a barn up at Suffolk. Bill Sienkewicz listened carefully. He agreed with Sinatra to give the filly one more try. Sienkiewicz and Allard had a long history of collaboration, and so the plan was hatched. Run for Cecila was shipped for one more round of training — and a few more weeks of her supplements — to face a field she might have a chance to compete against.
After three weeks of training with the Sienkewicz barn, the horse was ready, but her trainer couldn’t seem to find the right spot. The correct races just wouldn’t fill. Then, Run for Cecila finally got her shot July 27, running against the boys. Sinatra was not very hopeful, but since the race was close to his Connecticut home, he decided to ask his Rhode Island-based granddaughter to go to the racetrack to finally meet the horse named after her–and watch her run. The horse and the girl had always been too many miles apart to meet before.
Sinatra called ahead to make sure that a child in a wheelchair could attend the races and would be able to view the track, etc. The granddaughter’s family had scheduling conflicts that almost prevented them from being at the racetrack that day. Cecelia’s father even got a speeding ticket en route to making sure his daughter saw her horse run. Parents and child arrived about an hour before the post time for the 7th race. Cecelia rode the elevator to the dining area above the paddock and told her grandmother how happy she was to be there. The usual chatterbox Cecelia was soon so overwhelmed with all that was going on that she grew quiet, taking in her first experience of the racetrack.
Originally scheduled for turf, rain had forced the maiden special weight to a mile on the main track. While she would benefit from scratches by several of her competiros, this also meant that Run for Cecila would have to return the surface over which she had never run within 17 1/2 lengths of a winner. These factors did not offer much hope for a win that day.
Since trainer Sienkewicz had another entrant in the race, Sinatra spoke to the jockey himself in the paddock before the race. After he had described Run for Cecila’s past races, jockey Tammy Piermarini commented, “This horse appears to be a pack horse.” That made sense. The filly especially loved other horses in the barn, even peeking through the wood slats just to watch them. “You run your race,” Sinatra told the rider. He also told Piermarini about the granddaughter he’d named Run for Cecila for. Sinatra pointed to the glassed-in section above the saddling area and the jockey looked up to see the little girl in the bright yellow wheelchair. The jockey waved from her mount. Cecelia loved that her horse had a female jockey. Piermarini was a mother of three and understood how special the day was for young Cecelia. Surely, her intention as well helped shift the filly’s that day.
While the horses warmed up on the racetrack, Sienkewicz’s friend Josie helped Jan to rush the little girl, her family, and her brightly colored, but cumbersome wheelchair through the crowd, on and off of the elevator, and down to the rail to meet up with Sinatra. “No problem,” proclaimed Josie about her gallant efforts. “I work at a hospital. And this is what racing is really all about!”
The stars were starting to align for a little girl that day.
Finally, Cecelia would meet the horse named after her and watch her run. A lady on the rail with her children heard Cecelia exclaim to Jan, “Grandma, there is my horse!” The lady asked Jan if the horse was indeed Cecelia’s. The proud grandmother confirmed that it was. The lady gathered up her girls and ran to the window to buy parimutuel tickets before the race started. Run for Cecila was the last horse loaded and as she was led into the gate, her jockey brought her toward the rail, allowing Cecelia to come face-to-face with her filly. The jockey looked at the girl sitting on the rail and waved again as the entire family waved back and wished her luck.
The race started and Run for Cecila was forced five wide into the first turn. Sinatra just hoped the horse would not be embarrassed in front of Cecelia and her parents. The filly was the 10 horse, but the family couldn’t see her number on the board. Things were looking dim. But then, at the eighth pole, the 5-2 shot took over. She faced two challengers nearing the line, but Run for Cecila lunged forward at the wire to score by a neck. Sienkewicz’s other entrant, C F’s Bullet, was second.
The emotion that followed can’t be described in words. The horse that had never run well before overcame a return to dirt, facing the boys and a wide trip to win. Finally, the filly “got it” that the race track wasn’t about just running out there with her friends. It was about winning for a little girl. It was as if she was empowered by the spirit of the little girl that she was named after. Cecelia was jumping in her wheelchair as everyone else leapt in the air, screamed for joy, cried for joy, and congratulated the little girl on her win. Even their new lady-friend on the rail and her little girls ran over to congratulate and hug them!
As Dr. Sinatra quickly wheeled Cecelia toward the nearby winner’s circle, the track attendant stood firm that no wheelchairs were allowed inside. So, Cecelia’s father quickly picked her up. There was no way his little girl was going to miss getting her picture taken with the horse that on that special Saturday ran for the little girl who can’t. The family shared the picture of a lifetime. As far as the Sinatra’s were concerned, it was better than realizing their fantasy of winning the Kentucky Derby!
Meanwhile, Sinatra’s cell phone kept going off. Friends who knew the horse’s story shared in the joy from across the many miles. They were all in tears–Sinatra’s partner Bill Niarakis, David Smith, his trainers, his farm owners, family and friends. They had all found a place to watch the race from their various vantage points that day. They’d all seen the filly meet the little girl at the rail. All agreed that it was nothing short of a miracle. Both Cecelias’ were queens for the day.
As the Sinatra’s watched the replay on a monitor inside, the owner-breeder excitedly pointed out the great ride to his trainer. A man nearby looked over at the group as he heard Sinatra speak of the great job Piermarini did riding their horse and said, “That’s my wife!” Sienkewicz turned, smiled and introduced Sinatra to Piermarini’s husband, who also serves as her agent. Owner and trainer thanked the man and all shared in the day’s amazing events. More tears were shed.
Both a horse and a girl suffer from neurological problems. The doctor who named the horse after his granddaughter discovered a supplement that allowed the horse to run as she had never been able to before. Did Dr. Sinatra discover a supplement that may help his granddaughter as well? Only time will answer this question, but in today’s world of quick fixes, this story shows the healing power of love, determination, and a positive spirit. Few of us have a more positive spirit than a young lady named Cecilia.
Do you believe in miracles? Dr. Sinatra sure does. He believes his relentless search to fix Run for Cecila led to a miracle seen on the racetrack at Suffolk. In his heart, he is praying for an even bigger miracle. He knows in his heart that someday he may see Cecilia running on the playground and even beating the boys, just like her namesake.
Below are three links to various equine publications that featured the story of Run for CC:
Thoroughbred Daily News: http://thetdnblog.blogspot.com/2013/08/guest-post-filly-runs-for-little-girl.html