Story provided by Dr. Stephen and Jan Sinatra
Everyone thinks they have it tough. But racehorse owner Dr. Stephen
Sinatra's granddaughter, nearly 10-year-old Cecelia, is one of those who has it
much tougher than most. Cecelia suffers from a rare neurological condition that
makes it difficult for her to use her legs. She never gives up, though, and
neither did anyone associated with a filly named after her who faced similar
health challenges. Equine miracles are possible when love and energy between
man and animal are exchanged.
The following is an almost unbelievable story of what
happened when a horse named after a little girl received the care that only a loving
grandfather could provide. The smile on Cecelia's face in the winner's circle
was bright enough to light a city. That race would be the first time Cecelia had
been able to watch her namesake—Run for Cecila—compete at the racetrack. Had
anyone else realized the power transmitted to Run for Cecila by the little
girl, they would have known the other horses did not stand a chance that day. But
no one at the outset realized that or even could have dreamed it especially
after what had transpired over several years to get to this Godsend of a day.
is a cardiologist and a longtime owner and breeder. He is the co-breeder of
graded stakes winner Desert Party, who contested the 2009 Kentucky Derby Presented
by Yum! Brands (gr. I). In his medical practice, he is a well-known advocate of combining conventional medical
treatments for heart disease with complementary nutritional, anti-aging, and
psychological therapies. His work studying natural means for reducing
inflammation has led him to also experiment in equine nutraceuticals
and has conducted double blind studies to find ways to treat inflammation and bleeding
The story of Cecelia and the bay filly begins three years
ago when Sinatra consulted his breeding partner and equine bloodstock consultant
David Smith as to which one of his horses had the best breeding. Cecelia had once
actually asked her grandfather to name a dog after her. When he said he would
name a horse for her instead, she practically jumped for joy. Sinatra planned
to keep that promise.
Sinatra explained to Smith that his granddaughter had just
begun to demonstrate the effects of her neurological condition. His granddaughter
Cecelia's condition effects 1 in every 400,000 people. Walking has become so
difficult that she now relies on a wheelchair when going more than short
distances for which she can use walls, objects, and people for support. Nonetheless, cheerful Cecelia stays motivated,
oftentimes reassuring others about her deteriorating issues with walking and
balance. When she was 6, Cecelia calmly reported, "I can't run, and I can't
skip, but it's okay Grandma."
The teachers at her all-girl Catholic school and the dance
classes, which she would eventually have to give up, have all been inspired. Her
physical therapy team continually report admiration for her attitude. Cecelia's
mother and grandmother watched her final dance recital with tear-filled eyes while
Cecelia reveled in her on-stage seated position while the other girls danced
around her. The little girl beamed with delight that she was "the
star" her teacher had told her she would be that Saturday. Her dad would
say of Cecelia that afternoon, "Why are you crying? She's having a
The brave little girl had shown a love for horses at an
early age while watching the movie "Dreamer" about a little girl who
loves and cares for a busted up horse. At the time, Cecelia was sitting on the
couch with a fractured leg of her own. When the grand finale race scene
occurred in the movie, Jan Sinatra witnessed her casted granddaughter jumping
up and down, excitedly proclaiming "We won! We won!" Cecelia's grandmother
tried to calm her jubilant grandchild so she wouldn't tumble off the sofa; to
the then 4-year-old Cecelia the story was real life. But, wins like that
usually happen only in the movies. Right?
With Smith's guidance, the Sinatras finally selected a filly
by Awesome Again a few years later to be named Run For Cecila and assured their
granddaughter that one day the horse would run for her. Cecelia was so
delighted that she didn't even care that The Jockey Club got the wrong information
and would spell the Cecila.
When the 2-year-old filly began training, it soon became
obvious that something just was not right. Cecelia's namesake was not pushing
off of her back legs. At first it was thought she suffered from shin splints,
but this was soon dismissed. Many experts looked at the horse but none could
determine what was afflicting her. The Florida trainer Sinatra employed at the
time wanted to pin fire the young horse. Sinatra passed on the pin firing idea and
sought other possible solutions, including a more precise diagnosis.
It was eventually discovered the horse suffered from
neurological problems—just like their granddaughter—and it was affecting her
ability to bear weight on her back legs. At this point neither the horse nor the child
was able to run. It was both perplexing and heartbreaking. So, Sinatra, Smith
and Corby Caiazzo, who is farm manager and trainer at Berkeley Training Center
in Darlington, Md., went to Florida's Gulfstream Park to see the filly and determine
possible treatments for the her condition.
The horse was taken out of training and spent the next eight
months under Caiazzo's watchful gaze. Sinatra had started to give the horse the
equine supplements he had developed to reduce inflammation, and then came
across an article about tocotrienols reversing neurological disease in the
equine. He contacted the people in Asia who manufactured the product, and was
told the vitamin was also successful in healing other animals, including dogs
recovering from strokes. He ordered three quarts to be shipped from Asia and
gave a tablespoon to the filly each day. The horse responded to the treatment and
was soon able to jog, and then breeze. Eventually, Caiazzo had Run for Cecila strong
enough to be able to return to the racetrack.
Meanwhile, the human Cecelia was also undergoing therapy.
The horse she had not yet met was never far from her mind. Her grandmother
texted and emailed photos. Cecelia kept a picture of the horse on her dresser. Her
parents gave her the supplement program designed for her by her grandfather,
who added tocotrienols after reviewing the research. Cecelia began undergoing
equine therapy where she rode on the back of an older horse, and continued in
physical therapy weekly. When one of her doctors commended her hippo therapy,
she objected: "But I want to ride my
Run for Cecila still had a rough return to the races. After
her eight-month layoff and therapy that included acupuncture, microcurrent
therapy, and massage, along with Sinatra's equine
supplements with larger doses of tocotrienols, the filly's first start back at Parx
Racing was a dismal 16-length defeat. She
was switched to the turf and lost at Atlantic City by eight lengths; Delaware
by 7 1/2 lengths; Colonial by seven lengths, and Parx again by 16 lengths. It
seemed Sinatra's only hope was relegating his non-winning filly to the role of
broodmare and that his dream of seeing his granddaughter witness the horse
named after her win like Dreamer would never be fulfilled.
But Philadelphia-based trainer Ned Allard had one more
prospect before they gave up. He suggested that Suffolk Downs might be THE
place for Cecila to finally prove herself and break her maiden. So, Sinatra contacted
another trainer he knew who had a barn up at Suffolk. Bill Sienkiewicz listened
carefully. He agreed with Sinatra to give the filly one more try. Sienkiewicz
and Allard had a long history of collaboration, and so the plan was hatched.
Run for Cecila was shipped for one more round of training—and a few more weeks
of her supplements—to face a field she might have a chance to compete against.
After three weeks of training in the Sienkiewicz barn, the
horse was ready but her trainer couldn't seem to find the right slot. The filly
would be entered, but the races would be cancelled. Races for non-maidens just did
not fill. Then, Run for Cecila finally got her shot on July 27 in a one-mile
maiden special weight against the boys. Sinatra was not very hopeful, but since
the race was close to his Connecticut home he decided to ask his Rhode
Island-based granddaughter to go to the racetrack to finally meet the horse
named after her-and to watch her run.
Sinatra called ahead to make sure that a child in a
wheelchair could attend the races and would be able to view the track. The granddaughter's
family had scheduling conflicts that almost prevented them from being at Suffolk
Downs that day. Cecelia's father even got a speeding ticket en route to making
sure his daughter saw her horse run. Parents
and child arrived about an hour before the post time for the seventh race. Cecelia
rode the elevator to the dining area above the paddock and told her grandmother
how happy she was to be there. Usually the chatterbox, Cecelia was soon so
overwhelmed by her first experience at the racetrack that she grew quiet,
taking it all in. Her grandmother had hoped to bring Cecelia down to the
paddock to meet the horse, but that was too dangerous. But Cecelia was content
to pick out horses with daddy as she waited for her race...
Rain had fallen on Boston the day before and the day of the
race forcing everything off the slippery turf and onto the dirt. While Run for
Cecila had the advantage that several horses had scratched, this also meant
that Run for Cecila would return to the surface on which she had never run
within 24 lengths of a winner. She was also the only filly running against a
field of colts. These factors dimmed further even the slimmest of hopes for a
win that day. When the scratches were tallied, almost half of the 12-horse
field had scratched from the race. It was good to have less competition, but
still the deck looked stacked against the filly.
Since trainer Sienkiewicz had another entrant in the race,
Sinatra spoke to the jockey directly himself in the paddock before the race. After
he had described Run for Cecila's past races, jockey Tammy Piermani commented:
"This horse appears to be a pack horse." That made sense. The filly especially
loved other horses in the barn, even peeking through the wood slats just to
watch them. Sinatra then advised Piermani to just "run your own race."
He also told the jockey about his granddaughter and pointed her out, seated in the
glassed-in area above the saddling paddock. The jockey saw the little girl in
the bright yellow wheelchair and waved to her from her mount. Cecelia loved
that her horse had a female jockey. Piermani was a mother of three and
understood how special the day was for young Cecelia.
While the horses warmed up on the racetrack, Sienkiewicz's friend
Josie helped Jan to rush the little girl, her family, and her brightly-colored
but cumbersome wheelchair through the crowd, on and off of the elevator, and
down to the rail to meet up with Sinatra. "No problem," proclaimed
Josie about her gallant efforts." I work at a hospital. And this is what
racing is really all about!"
The stars were starting to line up for a little girl that
Finally, Cecelia would meet the horse named after her and
watch her run. A lady on the rail with her children heard Cecelia exclaim to
Jan, "Grandma, there is my horse." The lady asked Jan if the horse was indeed
Cecelia's. The proud grandmother confirmed that it was. The lady gathered up
her girls and ran to the window to buy pari-mutuel tickets before the race
started. Run for Cecila was the last horse loaded and as she was led into the
gate, her jockey brought her toward the rail allowing Cecelia to come face to
face with her filly. The jockey looked at the girl sitting on the rail and
waved again as the entire family waved back and wish her Godspeed.
The race started and the horse was forced to the 5 path due
to traffic. She sat 7 lengths off the
pace. Sinatra just hoped the horse would
not be embarrassed in front of Cecelia and her parents. The filly was the 10
horse, but the family couldn't see her number on the board. Things were looking
dim. But then, as the horses turned for home, Piermani approached the 2/5
favorite. At the sixteenth pole
the horses were five wide. As the horses neared the wire three were together. Run for Cecila lunged forward at the wire and
won by over a neck. Sienkiewicz's other entrant, CS Bullet, ran second in the
Bill Sienkiewicz (L), Ceceila, and Stephen Sinatra at Suffolk Downs
The emotions that followed can't be described in words. The
horse that had never run well before overcame a return to dirt, facing the boys
and running five wide the entire race to win. Watching her stretch out her
stride as she finished passing the pack at the end was spectacular. Finally,
the filly "got it," that the racetrack wasn't about just running out
there with her friends. It was about winning. Truly, she was empowered by the
spirit of Cecelia. As she cross the wire, Cecelia was jumping in her wheelchair
and everyone else leaped into the air, screamed for joy, cried for joy, and
congratulated the little girl on her win. Even their new lady-friend on the
rail and her little girls ran over to congratulate and hug them!
As Dr. Sinatra quickly wheeled Cecelia toward the near-by winner's
circle, the track attendant stood firm that no wheelchairs were allowed inside.
So, Cecelia's father quickly picked her
up in his strong arms. There was no way his little girl was going to miss
getting her picture taken with the horse
that on that Special Saturday ran for the little girl who can't. The family
truly shared the picture of a lifetime. As far as the Sinatras were concerned,
it was better than realizing their fantasy of winning the Kentucky Derby. Even Jan's
daughter Donna commented afterward: "Mom, what if we hadn't come here
"Then I don't think the filly would have won," Jan
Yes, the horse needed the energy, the force, or call it the
drama of the everyone involved: the jockey, the trainer—and of course Cecelia—to
break her maiden.. to win.
Meanwhile, Sinatra's cell phone kept going off. Friends who
knew the horse's story shared in the joy from across the many miles. They were
all in tears-his partner Bill Niarakis, David Smith, his trainers, his farm
owners, family, and friends. They had all found a place to watch the race from
their various vantage points that day. They'd all seen the filly meet the
little girl at the rail. They had watched the race televised. All agreed that
it was nothing short of a miracle.
Both Cecelias were queens for the day.
As the Sinatras watched the replay on a monitor inside, the
owner-breeder excitedly pointed out the great ride to his trainer. A man nearby
looked over at the group as he heard Sinatra speak of the great job Piermani
did riding their horse. "That's my wife," the man said. Sienkiewicz turned,
smiled and introduced Sinatra to Piermani's husband, who also serves as his
wife's agent. Owner and trainer thanked the agent and all shared in the day's amazing
events. More tears were shed.
This story transcends more than racing. After working
tirelessly on a book manuscript with the survivor of a near-death experience,
the Sinatra's are even more convinced that divine interventions are real. They
surely must have been in play on that day that a Thoroughbred became a
messenger transmitting love to all the humans involved. The filly also offers hope
that one day Cecelia might walk with the same grace and smooth stride as her
horse demonstrated that Saturday.
Both a horse and a girl suffer from neurological
problems. The doctor who named the horse after his granddaughter
discovered a supplement that allowed the horse to run as she had never been
able to before. Only time will answer whether the same treatment may help
Cecelia. In today's environment of quick fix of medicines, however, this story
shows the healing power of love, determination, and a positive spirit. Few of
us have a more positive spirit than a young lady named Cecilia.
Do you believe in miracles? Dr. Sinatra sure does. His
relentless search to fix Run for Cecila he believes led to a miracle seen on
the racetrack at Suffolk. In his heart, he is praying for an even bigger
miracle. He knows in his mind and his heart that someday he will see Cecilia
running on the playground beating the boys just like her namesake.