The racing community at Tampa Bay Downs is mourning the loss of former association steward Dennis Lima, who passed away Wednesday, May 24, at the age of 77.
“He was somebody you could always talk to, and you could trust him to give you good advice,” said Tampa Bay Downs racing official Jenn Moore. “And he treated everybody equally. He was so down to earth and never got riled up. [His passing] is just a huge loss for everybody.”
Some 60 years ago, Lima rode a train from Rhode Island with a shipment of horses bound for Tampa Bay Downs, then called Sunshine Park, and the barn of trainer Doc Canzano. After returning north in 1964, Lima trained horses in New England, was an assistant to Ned Allard and also worked as a jockey's agent. Lima worked on the Massachusetts fair circuit and at Suffolk Downs and at Rockingham Park as a paddock judge, placing judge and entry clerk. He was named an alternate steward at those tracks in 1987 and became a full-time steward three years later. He remained in that role at Rockingham from 1990 until the track's closure in 2002.
Lima was hired to work at Tampa in 1993 as an Association Steward and also worked as a State Steward at Delaware Park from 2003-2021.
“The most important thing is to be as fair and consistent as possible with our rulings and our judgment calls during the races,” Lima told a reporter 10 yeards ago. “For me, the most rewarding aspect of this job is when you finish a meet knowing you have done your part to keep it as safe as you can for the horses and the jockeys.”
During his time at Tampa, Lima struck up a friendship with former track announcer Richard Grunder, whose box was adjacent the stewards'.
“He was a very even-tempered guy who handled himself the same with all types of people, from grooms to Hall of Fame trainers,” Grunder said. “He had the perfect personality to be a steward. He read the films really good, knew the job inside-out and any tough situations that came up, he would take the reins and make the call. I've been in press boxes from the Pacific Northwest to Florida, and he was one of the best I've ever worked with.
“Plus, he was just a fun guy to be around. He was a witty, old New England son of a gun.”
Lima is survived by his wife, Celeste; their children, Monique and Shaun; several grandchildren; and a son, Dennis E. Lima. He was predeceased by a daughter, Melissa. Per his wishes, no service will be held. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Suncoast Hospice Foundation, 5771 Roosevelt Blvd., Clearwater, FL 33760.
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