The tack trunk sits in the corner, next to a Saratoga 2-year-old winner, under the overhang of the T-shaped barn inside Clare Court. A bag of timothy hay cubes folds and falls. Ankle paint, a soft-bristled, long-stemmed brush dropped in the plastic holder taped around the jar, you know, the quintessential groom-rigged method of efficiency. A stiff bristle brush, it looks like it was thrown from a passing car. Green gel, Epsom salt, a feed tub and a bag of laundry.
A rub rag drapes over the trunk, like a tablecloth at Thanksgiving. Spray bottle of alcohol, dirty saddle towel, a jar of ointment, hoof packing paper cut in squares. The handles of the trunk have rusted, but pivot on the hinge just like the first day. A mix of mud and stone dust has splashed on the front, up each side. The paint on the wood siding behind the trunk peals, flakes and falls. Sprigs of straw lie where they fell, soldiers on the field. Long-since abandoned cobwebs hang from corners.
A padlock keeps everything inside and everyone outside. Black front, white sides, metal trim. The initials are still there, in long cursive arcs and swoops, like Picasso walked past and saw a painting that needed his signature.
D G. For Dominic Galluscio, the cigar-smoking, pony-riding, pastel-wearing everyman’s man died from pancreatic cancer in 2014. He was 55. After seeing his tack trunk at Gary Gullo’s barn earlier this meet, I thought back to a story I had written when Galluscio died.
I was arguing with another writer about my adoration for the trainer. Not necessarily an adoration of a particular trainer but the adoration of the trainer as a whole. The eclecticism, the individuality, the melting pot of the profession. The other writer – just kicked around by a trainer – wasn’t getting what I was saying.
“Look, the cool thing about trainers is if you ran a full page ad in the New York Times (this was before they attacked horse racing), with photos of each trainer on the grounds at Saratoga and ran a headline saying, ‘Guess what these people do for a living.’ Nobody could come up with it. You’ve got cowboys, Frenchmen, hard boots, derelicts, gamblers, sycophants, New Yorkers, Texans, Mexicans, Italians. You’ve got quiet ones, boisterous ones, maniacal ones. You’ve got grandfathers and grandmothers, senior citizens and teenagers. You’ve got smiling ones, snarling ones. You’ve got some wearing cowboy boots, others wearing Gucci loafers, others wearing Wranglers, others wearing yellow sport coats.”
Ah, the yellow sport coats. And the purple ones, the pink ones, the light blue ones. Actually, they probably had better titles – definitely fuschia, perhaps salmon, maybe azure.
The New York training circuit has lost some of its color.
Dominic Galluscio died Monday morning. The 55-year-old trainer died from a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. Known for colorful sport coats, a cigar and a smile, Galluscio was part of what I admired in the horse trainer as a whole. He was part of the fabric, part of the horse trainer’s wallpaper, part of the crazy fraternity of men and women who ply their trade in such a captivating and frustrating profession. There is never just one road to get where you’re going.
Gary Gullo inherited some of his friend’s tack, his equipment and kept it on the beat. Dominic would have liked that.
“I always brought one of his webbings up here, but it broke or something, I can’t find it,” Gullo said a few weeks ago. “We’ve got his tack, some other stuff, there’s his trunk. That’s a sad thing.”
Today, we try to make the best of the worst, celebrating Galluscio’s life with the Lustgarten Foundation Day at Saratoga Race Course. The first race is named in honor of Galluscio, a hard-scrabble New Yorker who won over 1,000 races for over $31 million in a career that started in 1981 and ended far too soon in 2014. Today, trainers will sign autographs from 11:30 a.m to 12:30 p.m at the Jockey Silks Room Porch to benefit the non-profit organization that focuses on scientific and medical research to pancreatic cancer. The first 200 fans who donate will receive a poster of 2018 Whitney Diversify and a Saratoga hat. I’d rather have a tack trunk, but I’ll be there.
And hopefully – trainers – you will be there too.
Hall of Famers Nick Zito, D. Wayne Lukas and Shug McGaughey and eventual first-balloters Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown are promised, but there is a caveat in the press release. Lineup subject to change. Oh, there’s nothing worse than that, like going to Woodstock to see Hendrix, Baez and the Who and winding up with just Country Joe and the Fish.
“Trying to get the trainers together…” Gullo said. “They want to see Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, you know those guys. The people pay $10, they want to see them. Just for an hour…it would be a nice thing. It’s 100-percent donation, so far they’ve raised $100,000. It shows that trainers can get together for one thing…”
And, yes, that’s our sales pitch. We know you’re busy, we know you’re pressured, we know you have runners in the afternoon, family in town, bills to pay and a to-do list that looks like a 6-year-old’s wish list to Santa, but make the time. For Dominic.
See you there.