Monthly news & updates
September, 2021
Spotlight On: FHBPA President Stephen Screnci
It wasn’t the lure of cashing big on a cold trifecta that first drew Florida HBPA President Stephen Screnci to horse racing. He didn’t dream of one day standing in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, not back then. It was a fascination with the diverse crowd at Suffolk Downs in East Boston that hooked him from the start.

“I just loved it from the minute I walked in, it was like walking into Disneyland for me,” said Screnci, who started going to the track when he was 16. “I love the mix of people. At the track, you’ll see a father and son spending a Saturday afternoon together next to the guy who owns the Florida Panthers, you see the jockeys and the agents; I love that there are people from all walks of life, everybody focused on the horses in the starting gate.”

Screnci himself has blue-collar roots. His father was a tailor, his mother worked on occasion while raising five children. But when it came time to choose a profession, the native New Englander took a different path, earning a business degree at Suffolk University before electing to branch into law.

“It was more of a career decision rather than a love for the law,” Screnci admitted. “After I graduated from Suffolk University, I worked in the restaurant industry, but that’s nights and weekends and it’s not a good fit for a balanced life. I bought a liquor store with a partner, and put myself through law school at night. It was a lot of work.”

The long hours paid off. Screnci was in the top 10 percent of his class at New England School of Law and passed the bar in Massachusetts in 1993. But just shy of 30 at the time, he was looking to make a move.

“It was a time in my life when I could make a change, and I wanted something different,” he said.
Screnci sold his liquor store and headed south, settling in Ft. Lauderdale. He passed the bar in Florida in 1995, intending to use his legal acumen to augment his business practice, but things did not go as planned.

“My objective was to find a business opportunity that suited me, but I took a position with a small firm in the interim, and never left the practice of law,” Screnci said, adding, “That’s how life changes unexpectedly.”

Gulfstream’s Tapeta Track Open for Business
The first races on the new Tapeta track at Gulfstream Park were held Sept. 30, with J S Stables’ Emoji Guy, trained by Kathleen O’Connell and ridden by Edwin Gonzalez, making history as the first winner over the surface. The race proved formful, with Emoji Guy sent off the 9-5 favorite, and second choice Brett’s World finishing third. Three of the first four winners over Tapeta were favored. One went wire-to-wire, one came from just off the pace, and two came from midpack for the victory.

On being part of the historic moment, O’Connell said, “It means a lot. I’m happy for the owners. They’ve waited for a long time.”

She added with a smile, “I just texted them, ‘It’s a new track record.’ Of course, it was the first race run on it.”

The surface was first opened for training on Sept. 23. Trainers have the option of applying for approval to send a horse out during the Tapeta session, currently held at 10:15 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Turf shoe rules are in effect for racing and training on Tapeta. The main track closes at 9:45 a.m. when Tapeta training is scheduled.

Jockey Chantal Sutherland, one of the first to try out the new footing during the inaugural training session, was enthusiastic. “Of all the Tapetas and Polytracks this is, by far, one of the better ones,” Sutherland said. “This is beautiful. The horse went over it effortlessly. It was super-soft, and you could not hear horses beside you making any noise on it. My horse, I couldn’t hear hitting the ground. They’ve done a great job on it. It seemed all level and really soft, very forgiving for horses.”