A serious relationship between man and animal

Rich Fisher

Trenton, NJ — At the ripe old age of 14, Terlingua has averaged just under four wins and just over $26,000 in earnings per season during his 13 years of racing. Modest stats? Perhaps. But the numbers don’t tell the story for trainer John Mungillo.

Mungillo first claimed the pacer as a 4-year-old for owner Super Mile LLC for $20,000 at Yonkers in December 2011 and trained the horse for two seasons. After the horse was sent to another trainer in late 2013, Mungillo decided to claim the horse for himself and became part owner in February 2014.

He owned the horse in several partnerships until December 2020, when Terlingua was claimed. Their separation was brief as Mungillo reclaimed the horse a week later.

Terlingua has banked $342,610 in his long career. Lisa photo.

That kind of dedication is what you call a serious relationship between man and animal. Terlingua recently got career victory No. 50 on Aug. 26 at Monticello Raceway.

“He’s always got a place in my heart,” Mungillo said. “He’s just a nice horse. He’s always been a good horse for me. He tries every week; he has great gate speed, but he could do it both ways. He’s just a nice horse to be around, he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’s always got his ears pinned back but he goes forward.

“He’s had a couple injuries, but he’s always come back.”

Terlingua, a gelded son of Artsplace out of Western City, won one race in eight starts as a 2-year-old in 2009 and notched a career-high seven wins in 32 starts at age 3 with trainer Ron Burke as part of the ownership group. He also earned a career best $76,547 that year, hitting the board 16 times.

After winning just once in 2011, the horse was claimed two days before Christmas of that year.

“The owner liked the way he’d been racing,” Mungillo said. “We were looking for a horse to come to Buffalo and possibly compete in the opens. We thought if he got one out of Yonkers he could do OK up there, and he did.”

Over the next two years Terlingua won five times in 39 starts and earned just over $34,700. Toward the end of 2013, Mungillo was no longer training him.

“They took some horses from me and gave him to another guy that had been working for me, so I lost him for a little while,” John recalled. “He didn’t get along with him and they weren’t doing any good with him. I asked the guy if he’d sell him and he said ‘He’s going to win this week off the rail, I don’t want to sell him, I’ll pick up the purse.’ He didn’t race that well and I claimed him anyway for $5,000.”

Terlingua responded to his Mungillo reunion in a big way, enjoying the second-best year of his career in 2014. The horse won six times and hit the board a career-best 22 times in earning $44,167 in a career-high 38 starts.

Over the past eight seasons, counting this year, Terlingua has won between four and six races seven times. His only off year came in 2016 when he was limited to six starts because of injury.

“I followed him after I lost him back in 2013,” Mungillo said. “He wasn’t performing for them, they put him in $5,000 claimers. Myself and another gentleman claimed him and he went back up the ladder.

“He always performed well for me. He could be a little quirky jogging. He was a little grabby. Even now if horses are jogging in front of him, he’s got to catch up to them. Then he’ll go by them and relax. Then if there’s somebody else ahead of him, he’ll catch up to them. He could be a handful. But he’s a pretty special horse.”

Terlingua has raced all overnights for Mungillo, starting in the Buffalo/Batavia circuit before moving mainly to Monticello and Pompano.

“He’s had a few minor injuries as well, but man he’s been a warrior,” Mungillo said. “As a matter of a fact, he seems like he’s getting better with age. He’s racing good. It’s a little bit of a different colony at Monticello but he likes Pompano. I’ll go back there in late October, and he’ll probably finish his career there as long as nobody claims him.”

The trainer feels his buddy could break his season-record for wins this year at the rate he’s going. Entering Monday, he had five firsts in 27 starts and finished in the money 14 times.

“He likes Monticello right now, he’s been great over there,” Mungillo said. “I’ve been racing him at Pocono, he was doing all right in claimers, but this is his last year, maybe it will be a little easier for him over there in Monticello. He’s done well over there.”

As for producing eight victories this season, John said, “I think he might get that done. He really likes Pompano too. He likes the five-eighths (track), that’s really not a factor.”

Only time will tell how Terlingua will fare the rest of the way. One thing is certain, though, and that is the horse will compete.

“Out of the gate he’s been wanting to leave here lately,” Mungillo said. “He always could leave good, but he’s been able to get to the front. He used to be funny because from the five-eighths pole to the three-quarters, I don’t know if he’d pout a little bit or sulk a little bit, but then at the three-quarter pole he’d go on. The good part is they haven’t been able to get by him, and if they were to get by him, he comes back on them. That’s just the way he’s always been too.”

Mungillo loves Terlingua’s personality in the stable, calling him “just a nice old horse to be around.” His girlfriend broke him to be a riding horse after he retires to Wellington, Fla., next year.

“She’s got a barn full of hunters,” Mungillo said. “I always joke with her that he will be my riding horse now. He’s very nice. He’s big and strong. He’s really a strong horse.”

He would have to be to thrive this many years. Mungillo said he hardly looks like a horse that needs to retire from racing at the mandatory age of 15 (except for matinees, county fair races, or races exclusively for amateur or club drivers as sanctioned by USTA).

“He really doesn’t look like he’s 14, and he likes to race,” Mungillo said. “To get one to race until they’re 15 nowadays is really a feat in itself. He’s healthy, I believe he could still race at the fairs after 15, but he’s paid his dues, he doesn’t owe me anything.”

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