Rainy Days

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It took a rainy day to make me write this column. It’s been circulating – the interview happened 10 days ago and the interview notes have been open on my laptop for a solid week. 

But that’s the way it goes sometimes. Time runs away, you get to doing other things and you set aside others like a column about Dominic Galluscio and the friendship he had with fellow trainer Gary Gullo. I didn’t know Galluscio well, other than to say hello in the mornings or to interview after a winner.

After talking to Gullo the day after a trainer autograph session highlighted a day at the races to honor Galluscio Aug. 10, I missed out. The two were close friends, from the day they met in a barn at Belmont Park in the mid-1970s right up until Galluscio died of pancreatic cancer in March.

Galluscio was an exercise rider with trainer Mike Hernandez and Gullo was working for his father, T.J. 

“He shipped in from Clermont Farm and we were on the other side,” said Gullo. “I remember helping him out with a horse or something and from that day forward we were good friends.”

 Gullo helped organize the day to remember Galluscio and raise awareness, and money, for pancreatic cancer research. Trainers signed autographs for a donation, with the money going to the Lustgarten Foundation, a non-profit that works to advance pancreatic-cancer research. The foundation is based in Bethpage, N.Y. and its signature color is purple. 

That last fact should make you smile, as Galluscio was well known for vibrant sport coats, at least one in purple. Gullo remembers the day his friend started wearing the ensembles. 

“This guy must have lost his mind or something,” Gullo thought when he saw his friend walking toward him at the track. “What’s wrong with him?”

Galluscio strolled up, asked Gullo what he thought and – as only real friends can – Gullo answered bluntly.

“Dominic, you look like Barney. Look at you.”

Galluscio laughed and lit a cigar. The next day he wore a yellow sport coat.

“You wouldn’t expect him to wear something like that, not the guy you’d see in the morning,” Gullo said. “Then he got a lead pony, and he trained him to lay down and get up. He had a trick pony, and a purple sport jacket. He enjoyed life, it was just too short.”

Galluscio was buried in that purple sport coat, along with a photo from his 1,000th win. He was 55. 

He didn’t know he had cancer until near the end of his life, and only found out because of a heart problem. Galluscio had complained of some chest pain off and on. He returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic with Sal Russo and Bobby Barbara and mentioned it to Gullo again. Gullo insisted on a visit to a cardiologist, who diagnosed a blockage and put in a stent to improve blood flow. Galluscio might have had a heart attack. Two days later, he went to the hospital with stomach pain and tests revealed a mass on his pancreas, a gland behind the stomach providing digestive juices, insulin and other hormones. Pancreatic cancer patients have a 6-percent survival rate of longer than five years. It’s no joke. 

Gullo heard the diagnosis, soaked up what the doctor said and then talked to his friend.

“The cancer’s bad, Dom,” he said. “The doctor’s telling us we got a tough battle here.”

Galluscio, without missing a beat, put it all in perspective.

“Gary, what the —- does that doctor know anyway?” 

They never talked about it again. Gullo and his wife made Galluscio as comfortable as they could, they talked about life, about horses, about the good times they had together. 

There’s no right or wrong way to deal with news like that. Galluscio died March 17, about two weeks after the diagnosis, leaving behind a daughter Dominique, four brothers, two sisters and a long list of friends in racing. 

Gullo wanted to do something to honor his friend and do some good at Saratoga and did what we all do. He looked it up online and found Lustgarten. Then he talked to other trainers, suggested the autograph session and rallied the troops. They raised more than $4,000, which the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association matched, met loads of people and spread the word. Horses raced in purple saddle towels for the third race, and jockeys wore purple bands on their breeches. Some fans even wore purple in support.

“It was really a nice thing. Everybody really got together and helped put it together,” said Gullo. “It was really overwhelming for me. I felt that I had to do something for Dominic and pancreatic cancer. I never knew too much about it. You never even think about it until something happens.”

Gullo does, however, frequently think about Galluscio.

“I miss him a lot, I miss the conversation,” he said. “We used to yell at each other a lot, I have nobody to yell at now. He’d come to me and ask about a horse to claim. I’d tell him I didn’t like him and then the horse would win and he’d yell at me for talking him out of it. I’d swear I’d never say another word and then boom, we’d be right back there doing it again.

“It just shows you about life really. We’ve got to try to enjoy every day and not worry about all the little bullcrap, you know. It’s not easy . . .”