by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent
Louisville, KY — He’s able to watch Coraggioso in the morning and have his picture taken in the winner’s circle, but Tom Durkin, a New York Racing Association announcer and the voice of NBC Sports horse racing telecasts for 26 years, cannot be in very close proximity to his own horse for any extended period of time.
“I’m allergic to horses and probably all the stuff in the barn too,” said the man who called the 1989 dead heat in the Hambletonian between Park Avenue Joe and Probe. “If I walk through the barn my eyes itch, I get a heachache and start to feel drowsy. I watch him work out, but I don’t go very near him. I think I may have openly touched him once and he’s probably thankful for that.”
Coraggioso, a son of Conway Hall and Electra Hanover, is the first horse bred by Durkin and his partner Joe Spadaro, who was the deputy executive director for the New York Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund and a former harness trainer. Conditioned and guided by Phil Fluet, the 3-year-old has earned $212,413 from 14 trips to the post and sports a record of 7-3-2. Contesting primarily New York Sire Stakes company, Coraggioso has three victories, one second and one third from five pari-mutuel miles this year and just established his lifetime mark of 1:54.3f in a triumph in the $63,489 Historic Stakes at Tioga Downs on June 17.
“I took a ride out to the farm (after he was born) and he looked okay,” Spadaro remembered. “He had the right attitude; he was a little feisty. Then we shipped him to Olive Branch Farm, Chris Coyle’s farm in North Carolina, in the fall of his first year. Then he went to Pinehurst to Gordon Corey’s operation and that is where he was broke and developed.
“Our goal is to race him as an 8-year-old,” the Saratoga Springs resident continued. “That was our mantra going into this and we raced him lightly. We were eligible for the final on the (New York Sire Stakes) Night of Champions last year but the week before he spiked a fever and we saw he had some congestion. That was on a Friday or Saturday night and that was when we just shut him down. We sent him back to Chris Coyle’s farm to give him a nice little rest and then he was picked up in December to go right back to Gordon Corey’s farm to start him back for his 3-year-old year.”
Spadaro and Durkin decided to get into the Standardbred game about four years ago. After owning some claimers and ‘Saturday night horses’ according to Durkin, Spadaro perused the offerings online via On Gait.com and decided to purchase Coraggioso’s dam. The daughter of Lindy Lane was in foal to SJ’s Caviar and a yearling son from the same cover accompanied her.
“I did the pedigree research and I liked her,” Spadaro said. “I called up Albert Adams, who acted as the intermediary, and then left the mare out at his farm in Ohio, because I really liked the operation. Albert told me her owner didn’t think the resulting foal would be acceptable for some of the sales, so I’m thinking he wanted more of a commercial type mare.”
The yearling foal which Durkin renamed Eggipus Complex, because of the combination of SJ’ s Caviar and Electra Hanover, is now owned by N and J Horse Racing and has earned $130,913 from 57 starts.
The baby Electra Hanover was carrying at the time she was purchased, dubbed Bravissima, never made it to the races and now resides at Morrisville College, and a yearling half-brother to Coraggioso, Determinato by Cash Hall, will be sold at Harrisburg in the fall. Electra Hanover recently produced a full brother to Coraggioso and the partners just filled out the paperwork for his name this week.
“We aren’t going to be the next Hanover Farm,” Durkin said. “It will be Tom and Joe and that will be it. I’m an Italophile although I’m Irish, but Joe’s Italian. We give all our horses Italian names in alphabetical order so we can keep track of the foals year by year. That’s why the second one was Bravissima, which means brave or bold, then Coraggioso which means courageous and then Determinato is determined. We just applied for a name for our new foal, the full brother to Coraggioso which is Elettrizzante and means electrifying or thrilling.”
The duo is thrilled by what Coraggioso has already achieved and are very excited about his future.
“We fully hope to keep Coraggioso racing for a long time,” Durkin said. “It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could race for three or four more years. We want an 8-year-old, not a 2-year-old.
“He’s very terrific,” he continued. “He has great gate speed and can also come home in :27 and change. In his last race he was very tractable and when we had him in the Sire Stakes at Vernon he drew the nine hole and he had enough speed to clear that field quickly. In his last race we had plenty of horse so it was a schooling race. We actually just had him in behind horses and wait, then go. He’s a very smart horse. He’s all business and he knows he’s a race horse.”
Like any owner, Durkin is always happy to pick up a check but admits he is not the most courteous victor.
“Joe and I are middle class folks and it’s great to just be competitive and then to win,” he said. “I am a very bad winner. When Coraggioso wins I jump up and down and pump my chest. When he loses it’s okay. I’ll take second or third, but I have absolutely no grace or humility when I’m a winner. In defeat, I’m quite the gentleman.”
“Tom and I are very good friends and have a close friendship between Thoroughbred writers, people that work at the tracks, the Jockey Club and NYRA,” Spadaro said. “We are having a ball and all our friends are having it with us, so I think that makes it even more special.”
His connections are going to allow Coraggioso to determine his schedule for the duration of the year, but the colt is nominated to multiple stakes races outside the Empire State.
“He’s eligible to the Yonkers Trot, the Tompkins-Geers, the Hambo and the Zweig,” Spadaro said. “We try to concentrate a lot of his races from his home base at Tioga Downs. It’s a convenient spot for what we want to accomplish. When I got out of the business in 1988 I was training down at Roosevelt and my neighbor down the shed row was Norm Fluet, Phil’s father. We rekindled our friendship and that’s how Norm and Phil ended up with the horse as a 2-year-old.
“I think he’s a nice horse,” he continued. “He was going to win the (elimination for the Empire Breeders Classic on June 1 at Vernon Downs), but that break cost him big time because then we didn’t have the opportunity to select our post. He left from the eight hole (in the final) after drawing the nine and another horse scratched and his race was impressive. He was coming off a break, but we were happy with the way he raced and how Phil drove. I think he has a nice future.”