Racing fans of every generation will no longer be seeing the familiar blue and white colors of long time fan favorite and Hall of Famer Catello Manzi behind the starting gate.
During the course of a 40-year career, Manzi has endured plenty of hard knocks—more broken bones that he can remember and multiple concussions. For Manzi, all of these things have been just obstacles to be endured and overcome. But last year two very serious accidents, one on the heels of another, caused a permanent change in Manzi's way of life.
In the first, on Sept. 6, 2013, at Freehold Raceway, Manzi fractured bones in his pelvis, bones that had previously remained intact. As he has always done, Manzi recuperated and kept his focus on getting back to his higher calling, driving horses. And he did return to driving, winning a race on his first day back.
But that euphoria was short-lived when on Friday, Jan. 10, on a sloppy rain-soaked track, the Freehold starting car careened in a full circle as it pulled away from the field and hit several horses and drivers, including Manzi, now 63.
"That was basically it,” said Manzi. "Usually, all of the other times I would just wait, work on it, get better and go on. But I really can't take that chance anymore.”
Manzi's wife Ellen, who says she always got a feeling when something bad had happened, said that she was always astounded by the punishment her husband's body could endure, and his constant determination to get back to what he loved doing.
"He would always be working harder than the therapists said he needed to and was bugging the doctors all of the time to give him the OK to return sooner than he wanted to.”
But neither is Manzi ready to walk away from racing entirely.
"You know, one thing you learn as a driver is that as soon as you get in the bike and get the feel of the horse, you can tell if they are ready or up to the task.
"I have been really lucky in that I have gotten to win races like the North America Cup with Mantacular for a good friend (Larry Rathbone) and other big races with horses like Winky's Goal, Harmonious and Artsplace. All of them were great, but it was just as special to be able to help a friend get a young horse or a longshot to the winner's circle. Winning a race is a great feeling no matter where you do it or who it's for.”
While Manzi may no longer be the pilot, he'll still be actively involved in racing. He has signed on to be a part of the Cancelliere brothers (Tom and John) team.
"They have really done amazing things with their farm (Magical Acres), everything is state of the art,” noted Manzi. "They are friends of mine and I went there to do some training and keep busy. I was so impressed by everything I saw there that when they asked me if I wanted to be a part of it, I immediately said yes. You know, it's one kind of pride to drive a horse to a win, but it's a different kind of pride to be a part of the team that gets the horse to that point. I enjoy that as well.”
As for the Manzi family, all of whom have spent far too much time in hospital waiting rooms, Manzi said,
"They are thrilled. They couldn't be happier. My youngest, Caroline, who is seven, doesn't even understand how different it will be for her, to have a dad who is home a lot more.
"I am a very lucky, happy person,” concluded Manzi, who ranks third all-time with 14,812 wins and fifth with $158.5 million in earnings.—By Gen Sullivan