DiSanto’s death a loss for New York racing

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Glenn DiSanto walked into the office at ReRun Thoroughbred Adoption just off Waters Road in East Greenbush, ever-present smile on his face, light in his eyes and not a hair out of place on a sunny but windy afternoon in upstate New York. DiSanto greeted Lisa Molloy, ReRun’s executive director sitting behind her desk, and me, leaning against the wall between the door and sunlit windows.

I’d never met DiSanto and he’d never met me, at least from our recollections, but we both knew of each other. To me DiSanto, who I could easily recognize from many mornings during the offseason at the Oklahoma Training Track in the spring and fall and from seeing him lead his horses to and from the main track during the Saratoga meet, was the epitome of a local, hands-on, small-scale trainer.

We rolled out the first Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour with the “Little Guys” on the last day of the 2015 Saratoga meet and DiSanto was included. I’ll never forget how he was added to the roster of trainers that included many of DiSanto’s lesser-known yet eternally hard-working colleagues, names like Mike Shevy, Eddie Barker, Peter Pugh and Robbie Davis.

Dried sweat still on our skin from slogging through the Run for the Horses 5k that morning but back in khakis and golf shirts, Sean Clancy and I zipped one of The Saratoga Special golf carts through the stable area of the harness track. We’d accumulated a pretty solid list of horsemen talking about their horses and were probably about to call it quits when we spotted DiSanto walking toward his barn.

“Great, one more to add to the list,” we thought.

Problem was DiSanto was outside the fence, about to walk into his shedrow in his rented barn on Gridley Avenue and we were inside the fence, parked on the stone dust with six feet of chain link in front of us. Sean sprang into action, grabbed his camera, note pad, voice recorder and got DiSanto’s attention. I snapped a couple shots on my iPhone and off they went, disappearing into the shedrow to talk about some of DiSanto’s horses, specifically Where’s Danny, who we later informed our readers was claimed for $20,000, earned about $120,000 and had nearly died from a leg infection.

Sean returned a few minutes later and we discussed their conversation. We always remark after compiling all the information for the Little Guys’ Stable Tour how much we enjoy meeting the cast of characters that are part of the fabric of the backstretch. They’re the guys we rarely, if ever, talk to for graded stakes previews and recaps. They’re the names we know in the program and not much else. They’re also the guys who know us, read us and remember us long after the last issue of the season is printed.

DiSanto, who passed away Saturday after a brave battle with cancer at the age of 62, was definitely one such guy.

Fast forward to that afternoon at ReRun, where DiSanto stopped in to chat with Molloy about some horses that had been donated to the program, adopted out and give an update on some others that might need a home. During the brief visit DiSanto was everything I’d ever heard about him, friendly, thoughtful, honest and insightful.

The conversation weaved everywhere from the death of Kingmambo that morning, working on a foal-sharing deal with Coolmore, donating and selling horses for the show ring and eventing, the differences between male and female riders in the saddle and out, his farm near Greenwich, a recent vacation to Cancun, social media and the collection of zealots and critics it harbors and of course, horses.

A voice recorder sat on Molloy’s desk, red light indicating it was recording, captured it all. When news came out over the weekend of DiSanto’s passing I remembered that meeting, a random encounter between a horseman, director of a racehorse retirement organization and a journalist. Here’s a sampling, in DiSanto’s words.

“The girl who breaks all my horses is a dressage rider. She rides them all and they’re really broke. Because all the guys on the racetrack they want to come work for me over the winter, but they wouldn’t do it because it’s not wham, bam, thank you ma’am, you know what I mean? She does everything, saddles them up, cools them out, all they want you to do is saddle them and get on. It’s not a rodeo. I do all the work ahead of time. When she gets on them you can walk-trot with them.”

“Do you know where Willard Mountain is in Greenwich? I’m on top of the mountain. You go straight up the mountain and where it turns and says to go to Willard, you keep going straight. We used to be 450 acres, but we sold off some. … You can see Vermont, all rolling hills.”

“It’s all rolling hills, took a year to level the indoor. Then when it got all leveled we had to wait a year before it got settled, then another year before we could build it. … But it’s nice rolling hills. When it gets good and we gallop them outside, when they’re balanced enough to gallop down the hills, then you know they’re getting there. They’ll always gallop up, but they’ll break to a trot to come down. When they can gallop down the hills, they’re balanced, they’re really feeling confident with the rider and we let them do it on their own.”

“We just got back from Cancun and when you say I’m from New York, people are like, ‘oh, you’re from New York City?’ Me, I’m like, ‘no, there’s a lot to New York.’ ”

“One of the guys at the track he’s a great rider but he’s 60 years old. He has no hips. I train for an orthopedic surgeon and he goes in and gets injected all the time. He says, ‘you need to think about something else.’ He says, ‘don’t know how to do anything else.’ And the guy riders, they don’t save up anything.

“The girls, I don’t know if you know Lorna Chavez, everybody knows Lorna, especially at The Saratoga Special. She’s a character. She rides for me and she’s getting up there in age and she’s had some injuries. And she’s been hurt, not on any of my horses, other people’s horses. She’s made good investments, she owns a house, she’s made different investments in other properties, she does it. The guys, they just drink their money away. And she still goes out and parties like a 20-year-old. She has a party at her place that is the wildest thing. She asks, ‘why don’t you ever come?’ I say, ‘I don’t do that anymore Lorna. I’m done with that.’ ”

DiSanto also got to show off his horsemanship, which earned him the highest of praise from his peers after his death and throughout his nearly three-decade career as a trainer, that afternoon.

In the midst of the interview about ReRun, which unfortunately hasn’t been printed (yet), and during the casual conversation, Molloy got a call that a shipment of recent retirees were on the way to the farm about 45 minutes south of Saratoga.

Molloy got an extra hand in DiSanto, no questions asked, when the van rolled up and horses fresh from Belmont Park and now walking into the cold air of upstate New York needed to be unloaded and led to the stalls of their new home. Driving back on I-90, I-787 and I-87 later that afternoon I couldn’t help but come away from meeting DiSanto that he was someone of real substance and character.

Fast forward six months and to the morning of Saturday, July 23 – the second day of the Saratoga meet – and while walking into one of the viewing stands on the backstretch to watch Songbird train before the Coaching Club American Oaks the following day I was greeted by a familiar and friendly face in DiSanto.

Somewhat limited to being at the track every morning while undergoing cancer treatment, DiSanto didn’t seem any different than the tan-faced man who walked into the office that afternoon in mid-January. Turning around as I walked up, DiSanto stuck out his arm, gave a firm handshake and greeting. “Hi Tom, how are you doing?” like we’d been friends for years.

Throughout the meet friends and colleagues would talk about DiSanto quite a bit, wanting to know if anyone had heard about his health and treatment, how his horses were doing. The answers I heard always seemed the same, he was fighting the fight, pushing onward with a positive attitude and friends and colleagues were helping with the horses. That’s right, his colleagues. In a game that can be dreadfully cutthroat at times it can also be sincerely heartwarming at others.

Of course we caught up with DiSanto again for the second installment of the Little Guys’ Stable Tour, Sean snagging the hands-on horseman sometime the morning of the final Saturday of the meet when Joe and I were again tackling the hills of the Saratoga Spa State Park for the Run for the Horses 5k.

Sean didn’t need to hop the fence this time – or perhaps he did – but he knew where to go. In the introduction to the piece Sean wrote, “Stopping at Glenn DiSanto’s barn off Gridley Street Saturday morning, we explained the mission of the little guy. An owner laughed, ‘Glenn is the epitome of the little guy. We send him horses who aren’t very fast and ask him to teach them to run.’ ”

DiSanto talked about two horses – Quick On The Draw and Adirondack Dream.

Again, his words:

(Quick On The Draw): “She’s a nice 2-year-old filly, all ready to run and of course she got sick. I’ve hardly run anything at the meet. We have a lot of young horses. She’s a Posse filly, she’s a half to R Betty Graybull and a bunch of other winners. We really like her, she got sick and she’s coming back. She works well.”

(Adirondack Dream): “He’s by Posse, too. We ran him here, he finished seventh, he got beat 9 lengths, he didn’t know what he was doing. We put blinkers on him and he worked well the other day, 1:14 for 6 furlongs, he really wanted to go in the blinkers.”

According to David Grening’s obituary in Daily Racing Form, Quick On The Draw would be the last starter to run in DiSanto’s name, finishing second at 19-1 in a New York-bred maiden special weight Jan. 2 at Aqueduct. Adirondack Dream ran five times after his Saratoga debut and he finished third in a state-bred maiden claimer at Aqueduct Nov. 30 and fifth in a state-bred maiden special at Aqueduct a month later. The same obituary mentioned Kevin Bond, son of trainer Jim Bond and DiSanto’s longtime friend and colleague, helping out with the horses while they were stabled at Belmont Park.

Members of DiSanto’s family started a GoFundMe to help raise money of Glenn and his wife Melanie during their time of need, especially after learning just before Thanksgiving that the cancer spread to his colon. The funds from the campaign are being raised to pay any uninsured medical bills and to maintain their farm and household. As of Tuesday morning the GoFundMe raised more than $50,000 of an $80,000 goal for the late horseman and his family.

After learning of the GoFundMe in early December I thought it might be an opportune time to write a story about Glenn and his fight, perhaps even make that trip to his farm and see how beautiful it is for myself. I’d been told in the summer that Glenn was shy about any attention he’d received or would receive, so I wasn’t surprised when Laurel Cole, Glenn’s sister-in-law, emailed to kindly decline.

“It is very kind of you to suggest an article about Glenn,” she wrote. “Knowing Glenn he will not want to be interviewed about his illness. He is not comfortable about all the attention he is getting. Would it be possible to talk with me, my sister Melanie and any other people in the horse community about Glenn?”

The holidays came and went and a line on my to-do list that reads, “Glenn DiSanto story,” remains now more than two weeks into the New Year. Unfortunately that story won’t get written, nor will the opportunity to chat with Glenn again in the early days of offseason training at the Oklahoma this April. He was always one of the first – if not the first – to arrive every year. Several people have emailed this week mentioning sentiments similar to these: “There will be a void at Saratoga. I’m going to miss him greatly, as will many people.”

A service to celebrate Glenn’s life will be held from 4-8 p.m. Wednesday at Compassionate Funeral Care at 402 Maple Avenue in Saratoga Springs. I’m planning to attend, to hear more about the man I respected and considered a friend even though we’d only interacted on a few occasions. Something tells me I’m not alone in that, and as far as I’m concerned that tells more than any story ever could.

2016 Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour with the Little Guys

2015 Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour with the Little Guys

Glenn DiSanto’s obituaryGlenn DiSanto’s obituary

(Editor’s note: A second memorial service will be held Saturday, Aug. 5 at Saratoga Race Course. Additional information will be provided at a later date.)