04/01/2013 11:47AM

Tampa Bay Downs: O'Connell wins 1,500th race as trainer

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Kathleen O'Connell saddled her 1,500th Thoroughbred winner on Friday at Tampa Bay Downs.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – It was more then 32 years ago that a young woman sent out a horse named Kil’s Wulcki Spot at Detroit Race Course to win her first race as a trainer.

Having tried unsuccessfully to gain admission to veterinary school, Kathleen O’Connell gravitated to the backstretch, where she began walking hots and rubbing horses before striking out on her own. Last Friday, she posted her 1,500th career training win when she sent out This One’s For Mel to capture a mile turf race at Tampa Bay Downs.

A relieved O’Connell was still beaming Saturday as she talked about the milestone win and what it meant to her.

“I was pleased the win happened here at Tampa,” she said, “because Tampa was where I really got started, galloping horses and learning the ins and outs of the game. It’s always been like home to me and of course the fact we were able to win for Mr. Campbell and his family made it even that much more meaningful.”

O’Connell was referring to Gilbert Campbell, one of her principal owners. The owner-trainer team has produced a number of top-flight runners, including graded stakes winner and millionaire Blazing Sword, Ivanavinalot, and Fly for Phil.

“You know that every one of those 1,500 wins had people involved that contributed to the success of each and every winning horse,” O’Connell said. “To win that many races meant a lot of hard work and preparation went into those victories. I’ve had a lot of good people work for me over the years. My assistant, Brian Smeak, has been with me for 15 years, and the folks you seldom hear about are the backbone of the operation.”

◗ Willie Martinez went to Dubai last week to pilot Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Trinniberg in the $2 million Golden Shaheen but came away empty Saturday when the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner faded through the stretch and wound up finishing 11th in the 13-horse field as Reynaldothewizard won the sprint under Richard Mullen.

◗ Angel Serpa journeyed to Miami last Saturday for two mounts on Florida Derby Day. Serpa rode Action Andy to a second-place finish in the $75,000 Sir Shackleford Stakes behind Travelin Man and then finished sixth aboard El Commodore in the Grade 3, $100,000 Appleton Handicap,

◗ Ronnie Allen and Fernando De La Cruz each posted back-to-back riding doubles Friday and Saturday, while Huber Villa-Gomez posted a riding double Saturday.