Lisa (Misiewicz) Henry, 59, died suddenly Friday. A jockey from 1980-1990, she was married to Tampa Bay Downs employee William Henry, also a former rider. She rode 100 winners in 1981 and finished her 10-year career with 508 victories, according to Equibase. One of the most popular jockeys in Tampa Bay Downs history, Lisa sat down in 2011 with Bill and a reporter for an interview highlighting their athletic careers and subsequent lives. The story, which ran in the Jan. 21, 2011 edition of Tampa Bay Downs Magazine, was distributed by the racetrack on Thursday. For more information on funeral arrangements, visit www.hollowayfuneralhomefl.com/
Tampa Bay Downs maintenance worker Bill Henry and his wife, pony person Lisa Henry, used to be as well-known as anyone at the track.
From 1992-97, Bill won three jockey titles at Tampa Bay Downs, tying the then-track record of 123 winners during the 1992-93 season.
As Lisa Misiewicz, she contended for the Tampa Bay Downs crown a few times in the 1980s, winning legions of admirers with her refusal to back down, a rapport with horses of all sorts and her penchant for booting home long-shot winners.
Now – although Lisa's infectious laugh is sometimes audible from the next pole in the lead-up to a race – they don't get noticed as much. Some of the track's old-timers still remember them, though, however fuzzily.
During the offseason, Bill was helping install new grandstand seating with members of superintendent Tom McLaughlin's crew when a simulcast bettor approached, saying he bore a strong resemblance to a former top jockey he used to bet on.
“I told him ‘Boy, he must have been a good-looking guy,' ” Bill recalled, laughing.
Bill quickly owned up to being the fellow once known as king of the Tampa Bay Downs riding colony. He retired in 2003 with an even 1,500 victories (according to Equibase) and career earnings of $11,214,475. His mounts accounted for earnings of more than $1-million in both 1993 and 1994. Bill endured his share of injuries in 23 seasons, but a constant struggle to maintain weight nearly consumed him, bringing an early end to his career.
Jockeys are often required to lose weight by whatever means possible to reach the assigned impost for a race.
“I still have bad dreams about losing weight,” Henry said. “It got to be a thing where I watched my weight every second of the day. I didn't even want to go out to eat – because I couldn't. It was miserable. The first thing I did in the morning was get on a scale and figure out how I was going to get weight off.”
“Toward the end he ran, he got in the (sweat) box, he jogged home and he jogged around the racetrack,” Lisa recalled. “I remember saying ‘Bill, this isn't a good thing. It can't go on, you're killing yourself.' ”
Lisa won 508 races, according to Equibase, in a 10-year career, from about 4,400 mounts. Even though women jockeys had proven themselves years earlier, they still faced resistance in the 1980s, especially from wise-guy handicappers who derided them as the weaker sex on the track.
“You had to prove what you could and couldn't do,” Lisa said. “Back then, people didn't really want to see girls do good. They were trying to prove you inferior. They didn't think you could be one of the boys. You always had to give 110 percent, because 100 percent wasn't good enough.”
If you remember Bill and Lisa from their salad days, you might be amazed at how quickly the years have passed. Their 22-year-old son Jude is a University of South Florida student who wants to be a veterinarian to horses and large animals. Daughter Savannah, 19 and also a Tampa Catholic graduate, hopes to enter neonatology.
Savannah is helping her mother this season with ponying duties, which involves accompanying race horses on the track in the mornings and leading them to the post for races. They have about a half-dozen ponies they employ on a rotating basis.
“It gets tougher every year, but I love horses,” Lisa said. “If I can't ride, I'm miserable. It's a way of life for me. It always has been. When I ride I'm happy – it doesn't matter what's going on around me.
“Besides my family, it is what makes the world go around.”
Lisa had embarked on a training career when her world was turned upside-down in 2001. Breaking an Arabian-bred baby at an area training facility, her left leg got hung up in the irons when the horse spooked to the left as she was pushing hard to the right. She wound up on the ground writhing in pain, her shin bone sticking out from the skin just above her ankle.
During the next four years, Lisa underwent 24 surgeries, fighting the onset of osteomyelitis and possible amputation. “I didn't walk for four years,” said Lisa, who credits her doctors, especially Dr. Ernesto Nieto, in her long-term rehabilitation and recovery. “It was too much to go back to training but I wanted to ride, so ponying was the next best option.”
Lisa still gets up most mornings at 3 a.m., while still finding time to tend to the couple's menagerie of pets: dogs, Shetland ponies, parrots, squirrels, ducks and a pot-bellied pig.
Bill has kept busy on horseback in addition to his maintenance duties, galloping horses up until last season for Tampa Bay Downs trainer Jane Cibelli. He misses the excitement of winning races, moments such as the day at Churchill Downs in Louisville when he rode Oh So Striking to a record-shattering 6 ½-furlong victory for veteran Tampa Bay Downs trainer Ray Tamargo.
“When I galloped that horse back, the whole grandstand stood up and cheered,” he said. “Now, when I get to watch a race I do, but I had to move on. Don't get me wrong, I miss it, but I had to learn to do something else.
“I went from riding horses all my life to doing something I didn't know anything about and it wasn't easy, but I've actually gotten good at it,” Bill said. “I do a little bit of everything. My boss, Tom McLaughlin, has been good to me, and very patient.”
Bill and Lisa – two New Jersey kids who have made Tampa their home and found a way to contribute to the ongoing success of Tampa Bay Downs. It's a union made in racetrack heaven.
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