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A special friendship between horse and trainer
Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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Rich Fisher
Trenton, NJ --- At age 90, Carl Dobkowski is not looking for attention, but thanks to his 14-year-old pacer Sakra Fella, attention is finding him.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Dobkowski said from his Dutchess County home in upstate New York. “But I really don’t want it. I’m not a publicity guy.”

It’s hard to fly under the radar, however, when someone about to turn 91 on Feb. 20 trains a horse in his final year who barely raced the past three years and comes up a winner at 32-1 odds. That’s exactly what Sakra Fella did on a frigid afternoon at Yonkers Raceway on Jan. 19, winning his 20th career race in 180 starts.

“I was shocked,” Carl said. “He raced real good. He trained good and everything, he was in good shape and it panned out. The horse loves the cold.”

Tom Berg photo
Sakra Fella was driven to victory by Scott Zeron at 32-1 odds on Jan. 19.

The outcome was definitely the feel-good story of the young season so far, considering there are few 14-year-olds who come back to win after a long layoff, and there are even fewer -- if any -- 90-year-old trainers out there. But Sakra Fella, the lone horse in Dobkowski’s stable, is what keeps Carl young.

“He just loves it,” said Dolores, Carl’s wife of 45 years. “Everything is horses for him. He comes in every day, harnesses the horse and everything. I clean the stall and all that, but he tells me what to do. It’s a lot easier for me. I don’t know everything to do but he’s right there to tell me. He enjoys it; you can’t take that away from him.”

Carl was a driver for 35 years and has been a trainer for the past 50. Although he enjoyed driving more than training, he never set any date on his retirement as a trainer, saying, “It’s kind of nice, you have something to do.”

He got into training at age 40 with a Thoroughbred, but switched to Standardbreds. He and Dolores were married five years later and her professional experience was with IBM and AOL.

“That was my horse training, which means nothing,” she said with a laugh. “But he always wanted to be a horse trainer. He was going to stay in it, good or bad.”

Thus, Dolores gained an interest in the horses.

“I guess I had too,” she said.

At their peak, the Dobkowskis had five horses in their stable. Their lone horse now is Sakra Fella, who Carl bought for $6,000 at the Tattersalls January Meadowlands Sale as a 3-year-old. The horse was unraced at age 2.

“I liked his conformation,” Carl said. “He had a very good conformation and that’s what convinced me.”

There may have been a few doubts early, however.

“It took a little while to get the horse going,” Dolores said. “After we went to qualify him, someone turned around and said ‘I hope you didn’t spend a lot of money for this horse.’”

Carl scoffed at such skepticism and got the horse to the point where he considers it the best he has ever owned. The horse has won twice in three starts this year, raising his career earnings to $298,902.

“I think he’s been more than what he had hoped for,” said Dolores, who is listed as the horse’s owner.

Amazingly, both horse and trainer had to recover from several ailments. Five years ago Carl was stricken with cancer of the nose. After two surgeries he underwent three rounds of radiation. He had a heart bypass four years ago, and decided to only keep Sakra Fella in the stable.

The horse, too, was having health issues and took most of last year off before returning at the end of September.

“Carl still wanted to be in the horse racing business and he knew that the horse couldn’t do what he did before,” Dolores said. “But whatever it took to get the horse back, he would do it. This was the best horse he ever had. He raced (at Harrah’s Philadelphia) quite a bit and had some great races.”

Sakra Fella’s next race is Thursday at Yonkers and Dolores said they will take it day by day as to when they race him. With mandatory retirement looming after this year, they are currently in search of a good retirement home for him but, unfortunately, there are none near their house.

“We just want to get him a good place, because he’s been so good to us,” Dolores said.

And the friendship between horse and trainer has been something special.

“The horse knows him as soon as he goes into the barn,” Dolores said. “He starts hollering as soon as Carl goes into the door. Horses are amazing.”

As we see here, so too, are their trainers.

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