Hallandale Beach, FL – The Florida THA held its annual General Nominating Meeting and Awards Dinner Saturday night at Gulfstream Park, hosting more than 100 guests at Ten Palms. FTHA President Joe Orseno, completing his first term in the role, provided the assemblage with a look back at an eventful 2022.
“I thought this would be a piece of cake,” Orseno quipped at the start of his speech. “We were looking forward to a quiet year. We didn’t know what HISA was when I took over from Stephen Screnci as president. We didn’t know that the turf course at Gulfstream would be shut down over the summer.
“But we made it through. Gulfstream hired a new turf manager, and now we have an excellent course to race on. Our organization also partnered with Gulfstream to commission a Safety Study designed to make for a safer environment for our backstretch workers, especially exercise riders, and we hope it will help us create a blanket workers’ comp program in south Florida. We’re particularly proud of the Safety Equipment Voucher Program we started, also with Gulfstream Park, to ensure that our exercise riders have the best helmets and vests available.”
Orseno added, “We have an amazing Board. You can’t believe how many Zooms and conference calls and meetings we’ve had this past year, and they are always ready to jump in – at 10 in the morning or 2 in the afternoon or 8 at night. They are a great group of dedicated people.
“But I’ll keep it brief, because tonight is really about showing our appreciation to the owners and trainers who support racing at Gulfstream Park, and to celebrate their accomplishments.”
The culmination of the evening was the presentation of the 2022 FTHA Awards. Host Ron Nicoletti announced the winners in 11 categories, including the newly added Champion Tapeta Horse and Champion Tapeta Filly/Mare.
Raina Gunderson was chosen as the 2022 “Person of Distinction” for her devotion to the horses. An accomplished equestrienne, she worked as an exercise rider for nearly two decades in Florida, New Jersey and New York before joining the team on the frontside at Gulfstream Park. Gunderson started out as the horsemen’s liaison, but Thoroughbred aftercare has always been her passion, and it wasn’t long before she’d found a way to dedicate herself to ensuring happy and healthy lives for retired racehorses.
“It’s all about the horses, right?” Gunderson said. “They have so much life after they leave the track, and its up to make sure that life is happy and healthy. That’s why we’re all here tonight, because we care about the horses. It really is quite an honor to receive this award.”
Gunderson launched the Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred Transition under challenging circumstances, just a few weeks before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But she soldiered through and, in the nearly three years she has overseen the program, she has found homes for more than 150 horses.
The Gulfstream Park Thoroughbred Transition works with owners and trainers to place the horses retiring from the track with Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance-accredited aftercare organizations. Gunderson is responsible for each horse that comes into the program, taking photos and gathering information, diagnostics, and paperwork before finding the perfect placement and arranging transportation. She gets a big assist from the Gulfstream Park veterinary team. The FTHA provides donations to the aftercare organizations for each horse, and helps pay for vanning.
If you follow Gunderson on social media, you discover that her connection to the horses does not end when the van leaves Gulfstream Park. She follows her horses long after they transition to second careers, and her Facebook page is filled with photos of their accomplishments.
“Raina is one of our industries unsung heroes, working daily to safely rehome our retired Thoroughbred race horses,” said FTHA Awards Dinner Chair Teresa Palmer. “She is very deserving of 2022 ‘Person of Distinction’ Award.”
The complete list of the 2022 FTHA Champions is:
• Person of Distinction: Raina Gunderson
• Two-Year-Old Colt/Gelding: Awesome Strong (CSLR Racing Partners, Owner; Jorge Delagdo, Trainer)
• Two-Year-Old Filly: Lynx (Arindel, Owner; Carlos David, Trainer)
• Three-Year-Old Colt: Steal Sunshine (Carrie L. Brogden and Little Red Feather Racing, Owner; Bobby Dibona, Trainer)
• Three-Year-Old Filly: Maryquitecontrary (Rodney G. Lundock, Owner; Joseph Catanese III, Trainer)
• Older Horse/Gelding: Willie Boi (Lea Farms, LLC, Owner; Jorge Delgado, Trainer)
• Older Filly/Mare: Spirit Wind (Jacks or Better Farm, Inc., Owner; Ralph Nicks, Trainer)
• Turf Horse/Gelding: California Frolic (Julian J. De Mora Jr., Owner; Armando de la Cerda, Trainer)
• Turf Filly/Mare: Last Leaf (Monarch Stables, Inc., Owner; Ron Spatz, Trainer)
• Tapeta Horse/Gelding: Grand David (Granpollo Stable, Owner; Victor Barboza Jr., Trainer)
• Tapeta Filly/Mare: Kate’s Kingdom (Stephen Screnci, Deters Company & Frank Taylor, et al, Owner; Armando de la Cerda, Trainer)
The Dinner also featured the nominations for the 2023 FTHA Election, which will be announced next week.
Photo Credits: Ryan Thompson