Friday, January 28, 2011

Fight On Gino-- The Naming of a Race Horse for Gino Fighting Cancer--

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing the good side of racing when I learned that an unnamed race horse in the Doug O'Neill barn had been named for a new friend, fighting cancer.

In recent months many of us had learned of the story of Gino Buccola and have attended fundraisers to help with his medical expenses. Including the owners of a three year old chestnut, Mark Verge of and his breeder/owner Jack Sisterson. "Team Gino" had a new member, Fight On Gino.

Gino was born with the race track in his blood. "My Dad and Grandpa used to own horses with Walter Greenman years ago, Bright Orphan was one of their bigger horses they owned. My Dad was a general contractor so he was done with work everyday with time to go to the races at age 23. My Mom worked out in front of Santa Anita selling the digests, so everyday my Dad would ask her out on a date, and everyday she would nicely decline. One day my dad had a huge tip on a horse that he had been waiting to run, so he bet a $ 20 ticket to win on the horse and walked down and gave it to my Mom telling her "when this horse wins, I'm gonna make a lot of money today, and your gonna go out on a date with me later." Sure enough, it won, and my Mom went out later with my Dad, the rest being history".

Gino remembers trips to Santa Anita as early as 9 years of age including sneaking out as a senior in high school to make trips to the track and bet and be back to class by the afternoon. "It made sense to me (the racing form and sheets) My thing is that its like taking a test, the more I examine and study the form and figures, the better I do, something will pop out at me that I didn't see before, that's where I find the 10-1 or 20-1 horse".

If your in Southern California USC is a staple and the name jumped out at me as a life long USC fan. The name Fight On Gino, has a double meaning as it turns out the USC cry "Fight On" means alot to Gino too. "When my Grandpa was in high school he was a very good football player for Lincoln High in Los Angeles and he was being recruited by USC. USC was one of the only schools that recruited him, but he ended up going to war, and when he came back from Korea he never ended up making it back to USC but he was always a big fan of them for giving him a chance. He loved USC forever, and it was passed down to my Dad and his brothers and then to me, we have been HUGE Trojan fans for 60+ years, and for me my entire life from day one".

Gino went to work at TVG and I remember him during the 2010 Del Mar meet, he had an energy that was infectious, and he mixed well with the other on air personalities. Gino started at TVG by being invited by a friend to come to the studio in Santa Monica and hang out, make some bets and have fun. "After talking to a few other producers, they offered me a job right away as a producer's assistant, working behind the scenes doing race replays and getting background information for our (the producers) shows". "The month of March was one of my biggest and best months as far as betting goes, and soon after hearing how well I was doing, TVG would have me do little spots from the studio where I would talk about the horses I liked. The show Gate Crashers is where I really started to make myself as a main-stay so I would come on once a week and mention a horse I liked for each race".

I remember watching Friday Night Fights, it was a lot of fun and there was always Gino pitted against a veteran handicapper at the track. A weekly battle with the young upstart and a seasoned guy. The stipulation was that if Gino lost more weeks than he won, he would shave off his hair on air. The segment extended to Del Mar. "The best memory I had was the last week of my show when my hair was on the line. I received $ 400 to bet on the last race of the day. My horse won and I went crazy happy on TV (keeping my hair), that was one of the best days of my entire life, when the pressure was on I nailed it. The horse was Dearly Concerned and I will never forget that day".

All was perfect in Gino's world when in the fall of 2010 he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and began undergoing chemo treatment and battling cancer. Gino's prognosis is good. He has many people behind him, and with the joyous way he tackles each day, he is truly an inspiration for many.

That same inspiration led to the naming of the chestnut for Gino. Jack Sisterson said "We named the horse after Gino because we wanted to show support for Gino and thank him for everything he has done considering what he has been through and going through at the moment. He is a role model in life and should be proud of himself. So far, Gino the horse shows great fighting spirits and if the horse has even the half the characteristics, determination, energy, and will that Gino has, he will be a winner!"

A Facebook page has been created for "Fight On Gino", follow his progress as he trains for his first race and carries the hopes of many.

The Second Race wishes both Gino and Fight On Gino well....see you both in the Winners Circle!

To view horses no longer headed to the winners circle, that are looking for a new home or career, go to our website or visit our Facebook page.

Photos by Cecilia Felix


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