Goodbye Dominic

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I was arguing with another writer about my adoration for the horse trainer. Not necessarily an adoration of a particular horse trainer but the adoration of the horse 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.

I explained.

“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.

The first time I met him was in 2000. Well, met would be a stretch.

I had broken my ankle and had written a book before the meet. On crutches with pallets of the self-published “Saratoga Days” on a rented porch on Union Avenue, I needed sales help. Trainer Gary Sciacca (talk about the eclectic mix) yelled at me to get a box of books and get into his golf cart. It was 8 in the morning, Gary’s set was going to the track, we flopped down in his golf cart and started hawking books.

We sold a lot of books, one to D. Wayne Lukas, one to Caesar Kimmel, some to total strangers walking down the horse path. I had my leg propped up on the dashboard of the cart and Gary was steering and selling, “Please support the injured jockey’s fund…” We had gone through boxes of books when we rolled up to Galluscio’s barn, deep in the swamp of Horse Haven.

Galluscio was sitting at a plastic picnic table, talking on the phone, trying to explain a poor performance to an owner. He looked up, never breaking stride in his explanation, simply raising his eyes at us.

“Dominic, I need 25 dollars,” Sciacca asked.

Without pausing – Galluscio was about at the quarter pole of the rehashing – he reached in his pocket and threw his billfold on the table.

Sciacca elbowed me, “Write, ‘To Dominic, you’re a hell of a horse trainer.’ “

I scribbled it and signed it as Sciacca pulled out $25 from Galluscio’s billfold.

We threw the book on the table and drove off.

To this day, Galluscio doesn’t know what happened to his $25 and how that book got on his table.

Rest in peace, Dominic. You were a hell of a horse trainer.