When the stable area at Colonial Downs Racetrack opens July 13, Samantha Randazzo will begin her first stint as a Safety Compliance Officer, a job that is part of the new Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to reduce equine fatalities. Her “Best Practices” position focuses on 23 different responsibilities to ensure all activities and practices that involve the training and racing of horses at the track meet required safety standards and regulatory guidelines.
Among her duties, she will monitor daily activities in the barn area, conduct random inspections of safety equipment like helmets and vests, serve as a member of the Mortality Review Board and conduct random checks of ship-in health papers at the stable gate, along with many others.
Randazzo brings a wealth of experience to the table. She has been a Thoroughbred trainer for 27 years and most recently, has spent six years in regulatory roles. After college, she went to work full time for trainer Linda Rice and ended up having her own division of Rice’s stable in Florida for 17 years, at Monmouth for 10 years and at Saratoga for seven.
“Linda and I have a symbiotic relationship with training,” she said. “I worked for her brother Brian one summer while in college because he had younger horses and got the chance to see how they were developed and trained. When I joined Linda right after graduating, she was just starting out on her own. I’d travel with her horses when they raced at Parx or River Downs just to get more experience. I love training. It’s a passion.”
Randazzo was born and raised outside of Reading, Pennsylvania, and grew up around horses at their family farm. Her father was a mushroom farmer and her mother was a bookkeeper and tax collector. “My mother was interested in breeding and racing so we did have a small breeding operation at the farm,” she recalled. “She did layups and rehabilitation along with breeding and foaling horses then in the late ’60’s, she got a racehorse that competed at Pocono.”
When Randazzo thought about pursuing a career as a Thoroughbred horse trainer, her parents insisted she have a backup plan in case that didn’t work. “They didn’t think it was a great career choice for women at the time,” she said.
At 16, she learned how to shoe horses at a blacksmith school in Martinsville, Virginia, so she could help at the family farm. After high school, she studied animal husbandry for two years at the Delaware Valley College of Science & Agriculture before switching majors and schools. At Albright College in Reading, Randazzo earned degrees in Political Science and History. And keeping her parents’ wishes in mind, she attended the University of Toledo College of Law afterwards and earned a law degree.
“When I turned 50, I realized I wasn’t 30 anymore,” she said. “The industry had changed a lot — some good and some not so good. I found it more difficult to get things done. Help wasn’t the way it was 30 years ago either. So, I decided to make the move. I may be a little Pollyanna, but I believe one person can be a force for change and make a difference given the right circumstances,” she continued. “I feel like I can contribute more at the regulatory level at this stage of my career because I have seen so much. I know the difference between things that are illegal versus things that are morally wrong. Sometimes they are the same and sometimes they are not. I have passion for both the horses and people in the sport. We don’t want anyone — horse or human — getting hurt. The interest of gamblers needs to be protected as well.”
In 2014, Randazzo enrolled at the University of Louisville’s Racing Officials Accreditation Program and got her certification in Thoroughbreds. She became cross accredited by completing coursework in Standardbred racing three years later.
Since then, she has held positions as a sitting steward at Canterbury Park and Fairmount Park, as an alternate state steward and as a Florida-based vet technician at Tampa Bay Downs, and as a race office team member and placing judge at Colonial Downs, among others.
“Looking back at all these experiences I’ve had, the industry is changing, and I believe it’s for the better,” she said. “There is a litany of issues that are being addressed now between the HBPA, Jockeys Guild and various associations. They are seeing the importance of backstretch workers and helping them with health and family care needs. The progression of horse welfare and finding ways to repurpose them after their racing days are over has taken great importance now,” she added. “People didn’t retire or re-home horses before or seek alternative careers for them, but today owners, trainers, grooms, and anyone else associated with the horse is involved. There is more of an awareness that avenues like New Vocations (Racehorse Adoption Program), retirement programs and even individuals are available to accept those horses and often repurpose them.”
Randazzo has first-hand experience with a retired racehorse — she owns one that is based at a farm in upstate New York. “I have to walk the walk too,” she said. “That horse competed in my division from the age of two until he was claimed from me at the age of eight. When he was racing in the bottom level at Penn National afterwards, I contacted the owner and had planned to fill out paperwork to claim him back. But the owner instead graciously just gave him to me. He’s a special child,” she added. “I thought I could repurpose him for myself to be a racetrack pony horse, but he is a little too high strung. Horses are like people. Not all are actually fit for another career. Now, I just ride him when I get up that way after the Colonial meet. I spend a month or two up there visiting friends and family.”
Recently, Randazzo was working the final days of June at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Sale for 2-year-olds in training. She clocks and grades the horses as they are breezing. She also helps with stable release paperwork. She doublechecks the bill of sale and bill of lading then releases each horse so the sales company knows the destination of where each horse is going and how he is getting there.
“I like to stay busy and always enjoy doing different things,” she said. “There’s not a lot that I couldn’t do.”
Her next stop is Colonial Downs and she is looking forward to the new challenge. “I’ve performed most of the Safety Compliance tasks before,” she said. “At Fairmount and Canterbury, I’d walk the backside every morning. I checked every single stall to make sure the horses were properly bedded, had water and had hay. I watched breezes regularly. If a horse or rider went down, I’d speak to the outrider. They control the track in the morning but wanted them to know I was another set of eyes. I was there to back them up. I helped make sure everyone had their helmets snapped up. The outriders get tired of telling people to wear helmets securely but it is for everyone’s safety. I wanted to make sure horses and people were taken care of.”
When speaking of Colonial specifically, Randazzo hopes her summer is unexciting. “Reflecting on the constitution of the backside last year, I expect to be bored this summer,” she said half joking. “I walked the barn every morning last year. People came there to race. They wanted to win, they wanted to make money, then they wanted to leave. Colonial wants a set of boots on the ground — someone who knows what should happen on the backstretch. That’s what I’ll be there to do this year. I’ll be walking around and observing to make sure horses are being taken care of. Hopefully, I’ll be pretty good at it. I believe I’m doing this job for the right reason and that I have the right attitude going into it.”
“We are very fortunate to have ‘Sam’ for this important role,” said Jill Byrne, Colonial’s Vice President of Racing Operations. “Her extensive background and knowledge from a horse person’s perspective has earned her immense respect from horsemen. Combine that with her experience as a racing official and her passion for the industry, and she is the perfect representative to ensure the safety and welfare of horses, riders, and all stable help, as well as the integrity of racing.”
Colonial Downs’ summer season begins July 27 and continues thru September 2. Racing will take place every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 5:30 PM (EDT). Virginia Derby Night is slated for Tuesday September 1. For more information and to see a copy of the Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan, visit colonialdowns.com.