Yonkers, NY — Few owners exhibit the passion for their horse that Giuseppe Franco shows for Zacon Gio. Following the 4-year-old trotter’s breakout victory in the $1 million Yonkers International Trot Oct. 12 at Yonkers Raceway, Franco returned home to Naples, Italy keeping Zacon Gio close by all the way.
Franco and his team left through New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport toting hard case luggage emblazoned with images of the champion trotter. The baggage not only put Franco’s passion for his horse and team on display, but also invited a host of questions from curious passers-by.
While Zacon Gio returned to Holger Ehlert’s stable to find his stall adorned with Italian and Yonkers International Trot flags; red, white, and green balloons; and a poster reading, “Benvenuto a casa Zacon Gio! Nostro campione” (Welcome home Zacon Gio! Our champion), Franco returned to a block party at his Ribar Caffé in southeastern Naples.
While Zacon Gio’s Yonkers International Trot winner’s circle celebration was lively, Franco received even more support for his homecoming. Posters and balloons in the Italian colors adorned every table and wall of the corner restaurant while banners flew over the street from one building to another and corks flew out of champagne bottles. At another event, Franco crafted a pizza with his trotter’s name on it as a tribute.
The SOA of NY’s Brandon Valvo caught up with Franco to reflect on Zacon Gio’s Yonkers International Trot victory and the celebrations that followed.
BV: It’s been over a month since Zacon Gio won the Yonkers International Trot. Has the win sunken in? What was the experience like as you look back at it?
GF: More than a month has passed, but I tell you that I think about it almost every day and it was an indescribable emotion.
BV: Does winning a race like the Yonkers International Trot change your life?
GF: Life at the racetrack, certainly. Personal life, no.
BV: There was a huge crowd in the winner’s circle after the race. Can you tell me a little about who was there? What did it mean to you to have so many people there supporting you and the horse?
GF: I think that we brought 17 people from Italy between family and team of ‘Zacon.’ Then in America, there is my family, so we were more than 30 people to support Zacon Gio.
BV: The Zacon Gio suitcases really caught my eye! Did you have those custom made just for this trip?
GF: We made it for this American trip, and I do not hide that we had so many compliments.
BV: It looked like there was a big celebration for Zacon Gio when you returned home. I saw pictures of balloons, posters, flags, banners, I think I even saw a picture of a pizza with Zacon Gio’s name on it! Tell me about the celebrations and the parties when you got home.
GF: After we got back from the airport, we went out to an activity at my restaurant and bar and I tell you that the whole neighborhood participated in this beautiful party and it was a very beautiful thing. Then there was another activity of mine at a pizzeria and we invented a pizza with the name Zacon Gio and it is having so much success.
BV: How did harness racing fans in Italy react to Zacon Gio’s win?
GF: They were happy.
BV: How long have you owned racehorses? How did you get involved in the sport?
GF: I was born into horses because my father (Giovanni) owns a stable that is 50 years old.
BV: How did you acquire Zacon Gio?
GF: ‘Zacon’ we purchased after he had done five races. I followed him and already he gave me the impression of an important horse.
BV: Did anything stand out about him when you first acquired him? Did you always think he was special?
GF: I always thought he was a good horse, but did I think that he could then become ‘Zacon’ and win the International Trot, I tell you the truth, no.
BV: How did you feel before the Yonkers International Trot? Were you confident, nervous, or both?
GF: I was very excited. I knew we played it because Holger (Ehlert) had told me we were going to America with the right confidence to be able to fight the victory.
BV: Had you ever been to America or to New York City before?
GF: I was in America seven years ago on my honeymoon.
BV: Zacon Gio is still a young horse. Are you excited about his future? What other big races would you like to compete in going forward?
GF: The horse is young and healthy; this makes us hope that it can have a long career. The next goal will be the Gran Premio Lotteria at Agnano in Naples, my city of origin. Then I would like to participate in the Prix d’Amérique next year and schedule a return to America and make two or three races in America.