03/19/2008 11:00PM

Sciacca returns to track as a winner


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - It may only have been a second-level allowance race on a Thursday at Aqueduct, but Marina Market's victory felt like something else to trainer Gary Sciacca.

"Like winning the [Kentucky] Derby," Sciacca said after Marina Market's neck victory over No Reply in the $53,000 race. "What a great feeling. Brought tears to my eyes. Couldn't happen any better."

Marina Market was the first horse Sciacca saddled since Wood Winner last Nov. 18. The next day, Sciacca began serving a four-month suspension for an incident at his barn in June 2003 in which an attempt was made to give one of his horses a milkshake on the day it was to race. The concoction was never given, and the horse was scratched, but the New York State Racing and Wagering Board meted out harsh penalties anyway.

Sciacca wasn't in the country at the time of the incident, but was suspended under the state's trainer responsibility rule. Initially, Sciacca was suspended for 45 days by the stewards, but on appeal Sciacca was given 120 days by the Racing and Wagering Board in an apparent attempt to send a message about the severity of such an act.

Sciacca's assistant, Paul Barone, and barn foreman, Oscar Deleon, were also penalized, as was veterinarian Paul McGuire. Deleon did not appeal and served 45 days last year. Barone returned to work two weeks ago, and Sciacca returned to his Belmont Park barn Tuesday.

Sciacca said he is down to about 14 horses, whereas last fall he had more than 30.

"It's great to be back, it really is," Sciacca said Thursday morning. "I'm just trying to regroup and get some owners. I guess if you got to turn something into a positive, I'm freshened up. I haven't had this much time off since I started training 20 years ago."

Sciacca, 48, actually began training horses in 1981 and won two Belmont training titles in the 1990s. He also campaigned Saratoga Dew to the 3-year-old filly championship in 1992.

During his suspension, Sciacca said he tried to distance himself from the track as much as possible. He didn't watch the races on television, and though he lives just two miles from Belmont, he wouldn't drive past the track, often taking a circuitous route to his favorite restaurant, King Umberto's.

Sciacca said he spent several days at businesses owned by friends, including a grocery store where on some days Sciacca would help out by stocking shelves. Recreationally, Sciacca said friends took him snowmobiling in Vermont.

"I just kept trying to stay busy," said Sciacca, who added he was glad to spend more time with his wife, Josephine, and teenage children, Robert and Gina.

Sciacca said he fought his suspension because he believed that nothing happened. Sciacca said he wouldn't have fought the ban had he known the penalty could be increased to four months.

"If I would have known it would turn into this, I would have taken my days earlier," Sciacca said.

Sciacca said he appreciates the fact that some of his owners have given him a second chance. At the recent Calder sales, Sciacca purchased a 2-year-old filly by Northern Afleet out of a dam who is a half-sister to Afleet Alex for $200,000 for owner Lee Pokoik.

"It's like starting over - I'm just hoping people see I'm back, a fresh face, and say, hey, you know what? Gary's won Belmont meets, he trained an Eclipse winner, we're coming to the grass season, let's give this guy a shot," Sciacca said. "It ain't like I never did any good, I've done very good. It ain't like I came up with a big positive, it's something that just basically got out of hand."

Arriaga wins first race

Jockey Antonio Arriaga's first career win was several years in the making.

Arriaga, a 31-year-old native of Mexico, won his first race Thursday when he guided Amongooseamongus ($16.40) to a 3 1/2-length victory in the second race. It came on Arriaga's third career mount and nearly four years after he rode his previous two.

Arriaga rode the horse for his wife, trainer Jacqueline Oleanik.

In order to ride, Arriaga had to get permission from the state to waive his status as an apprentice rider. Arriaga, who weighs 117 pounds, could not do the weight to be considered an apprentice.

Arriaga, who works as an exercise rider for Richard Dutrow Jr. in the mornings and as a NYRA parking attendant in the afternoons, said he hopes to pick up mounts on a regular basis.

Shadwell to sponsor two big stakes

Shadwell Farm will be the presenting sponsor for the Travers Stakes and Suburban Handicap, two of the more prestigious races on the New York Racing Association calendar, it was announced Thursday.

The agreement is for the next two years.

The Travers, a 1 1/4-mile race at Saratoga for 3-year-olds, will be run on Aug. 23. The Suburban, a 1 1/4-mile handicap race for 3-year-olds and up, will be run at Belmont Park on June 28. Invasor won the 2006 Suburban for Shadwell en route to Horse of the Year honors.

"Shadwell has been supportive of New York racing and anxiously looks forward to our involvement both at Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course as a wonderful honor and an exciting new experience," said Rick Nichols, Shadwell's vice president and general manager.

Now a Victor resumes training

Now a Victor worked three furlongs in 37 seconds at Laurel Park on Wednesday, his first breeze since winning the Grade 3 Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct last November.

Now a Victor won 3 of 4 starts last year, his only loss coming by a neck in the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes on Breeders' Cup Day at Monmouth Park. Trainer Michael Trombetta said he gave Now a Victor a lengthy freshening following the Discovery in hopes of having a horse that can "make an impact in the handicap division this spring and summer."