OLDSMAR, FL—Tampa Bay Downs Director of Security Deanna Nicol was honored Monday at the Organization of Racing Investigators annual conference in Bensalem, Pa. with the John F. Wayne Lifetime Member Award, the ORI’s most prestigious honor.

The award recognizes members dedicated to the integrity of horse racing and are, or were, actively engaged in the operations of the ORI.

“It’s humbling,” Nicol said after returning to the Oldsmar oval. “I’m very honored because my colleagues are the ones who voted for me. I had no idea until they announced it at the conference.”

The award honors the late John F. Wayne, who died shortly after the 2020 annual ORI conference and was honored posthumously the following year as the Lifetime Member recipient.

Nicol, an Ontario, Canada product, is a 34-year veteran of security and integrity leadership in horseracing and is in her 11th year as director of security for Tampa Bay Downs. Her career began in 1990 at Fort Erie Race Track in Ontario after earning a degree in law and security administration at Niagra College in Ontario.

She was with Woodbine Racetrack for 17 years, working as a security officer and investigator and working her way up to Senior Manager of Security Operations for Woodbine at Mohawk Racetrack, a harness racing facility.

Nicol has worked on various racing event teams in Kentucky, California, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, New York, Pennsylvania, Ontario and Nebraska and was part of the Breeders’ Cup investigative team from 2008-2022 (overseen through 2012 by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau).

“I wanted to get on the Breeders’ Cup team so bad I worked for free my first two or three years, and they finally hired me,” she recalled.

Nicol also performs inspections of Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance facilities for the TAA free of charge. “I donate my pay and expense money back to the TAA – it’s my way of giving back to the industry I’ve been very fortunate to make a living from,” she said.

“Horse racing is one of my passions. I love watching Thoroughbreds compete, and aftercare is very important to me. I want to do everything I possibly can to make sure they are taken care of when they finish their racing careers.

“Everybody in the industry has a choice except these horses. We make their choices for them, and it’s up to us to make sure they are properly taken care of,” she said. “It’s something I’ve always believed in and abided by, and speaking for them is part of our role as investigators and as part of management at Tampa Bay Downs.”

Nicol was previously an ORI chairperson and hosted its annual national conference at Tampa Bay Downs in 2017. She is currently the ORI vice-chairperson.

Tampa Bay Downs again will host the annual ORI conference in 2026, during the Oldsmar oval’s 100th anniversary season and marking the 30th year of the conference.

The ORI is comprised of professionals responsible for security and integrity investigations associated with professional horse racing. Members are employed by government, police and regulatory entities as well as private security firms and racetracks.

ORI members actively investigate race-fixing, horse doping, animal abuse, drug abuse, money-laundering, cyber crime, fraud, conspiracy and a host of other infractions of the laws and rules that govern horse racing and pari-mutuel activity.

Return to the March 7 issue of Wire to Wire