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Alborano put trust in Elliott

July 14, 2006

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As a highly successful business consultant, Joe Alborano is used to handling things on his own. To trust others with important matters in his life was just not Alborano’s way. But when he purchased Artistic Fella as a yearling, the New Egypt, New Jersey, resident knew that he would have to entrust him with trainer Steve Elliott. Now, he has the favorite in Saturday night’s $1 million Meadowlands Pace.

“I have never engaged in anything without being right in the middle of it and competing,” noted Alborano, who grew up in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn. “Right now, I’m a spectator and that’s why I get nervous. That’s how I am. I’m an intense guy. I play to win. While I enjoy getting involved here at the farm, I have to turn over the reins of a horse at Artistic Fella’s level to Steve Elliott. That was the best thing I ever did.

“Steve is the first guy I allowed to do anything for me,” Alborano said. “He’s the first guy I allowed to control anything in my life, and it worked out in a big way, and it turned out to be the right decision. I told him ‘You showed me you’re probably more of a professional than me.’

“What I do in my game I’m very good at,” he noted. “It’s hard for me to put my faith in somebody. I have 250 percent faith in Steve and 250 percent faith in (driver) Cat Manzi. And his groom, Rachael Vincent, has done a tremendous job and was very convincing early in the year to keep the (stakes) payments up. I have all the faith in her, too.”

That adds up to more than 500 percent of faith that Alborano will have in his team Saturday when Artistic Fella puts his eight-race winning streak on the line in the $1 million Meadowlands Pace Final. The 3-year-old colt won his elimination race by nearly a length on July 8 and is the 7-5 morning line favorite in the featured eighth race.

Early in the year, Manzi and the colt did not get along and Alborano asked Ron Pierce to drive for him. Pierce drove Artistic Fella to four straight wins, including the Berry’s Creek. But Pierce then had driving commitments in Canada on the same night as Artistic Fella’s next start, a New Jersey Sire Stakes division on May 13.

Alborano ran into Manzi at Freehold and a friendly chat occurred.

“I said ‘Hey, Cat, are you going to Canada?’\" Alborano recalled. \"He said ‘Why, you want to let me drive the colt?’ I said ‘I always wanted you to drive the colt; we’ll talk to Steve and see what’s going on.’

“I like Ronnie, I like Cat,” he said referring to the two Hall of Famers. “They’re guys who’ve been around and succeeded many times in these big races. I’m a funny guy. I like a guy to know my horse and be on him. And the worse feeling I’d have is to put a new guy up on the horse in Meadowlands Pace. You need time for the driver to get acclimated with the horse, and the horse to get acclimated to the driver.”

As it turned out, Elliott’s superb work with the horse enabled Manzi to handle him the second time around.

“I put Cat in with him for starters, but the horse just wasn’t right,” Alborano said. “We were still in the process of getting him sorted out in his mind. The horse has a way of doing certain things he wants to do. He got educated by Steve. Cat didn’t get along with him. He wasn’t steerable, and he was still green. He only had four starts last year.”

Manzi agreed, saying, “He was so miserable on the bit, hard to steer. His state of mind, it’s an amazing thing, an amazing transformation, I’ve seen. I had given up on him. I said ‘I don’t know what to do with him.’ Within a few weeks, he was just fine. I was just happy to get him back again.”

“We wracked our brains trying to figure out what was going on with him,” Elliott agreed. “He just turned the corner on his own, basically. Cat was elated to get the chance to drive him again. When he came back he was just shaking his head in amazement that the transformation the horse made.”

Entering the Meadowlands Pace eliminations, Artistic Fella was so dominating that Manzi had yet to pop the earplugs. It finally happened on Saturday as the colt won in 1:48.4, after coming first-over at the half to take the lead.

“I thought he was getting tired, but I got to him and he kept going,” said Manzi, who is still looking for his first Pace win after nine tries. “I was amazed at how great he was. He’s just a good horse and he shows it every time he goes out there. For a second, I thought they were going to get to him, but he’s a little special and he knew what he had to do.”

\"I always knew he\'d be a very good horse,” said New Zealand-native Rachael Vincent, a caretaker in the Elliott barn for three years. “He\'s a very playful type and gentle. Plus -- I don\'t know quite how to say it -- a little dumb. But working here, I love it. I don\'t think I could work anywhere else. We spend a lot of time, all year, on the horses getting them ready. Steve and Joe know what goes into it. They are always quick to give me credit. That makes it easier to work here. We work together. It makes you want to travel with the horses and to do a good job.

\"I\'ve been in the business long enough – 10 years -- to know how difficult it is to win a big race,” she added. “It\'s a thrill for me to be in the Meadowlands Pace. I was in it two years ago with Circle L Kid. Now I\'d like to win it.\"

Artistic Fella won three of four starts at two before the decision was made to give him time to mature.

“He’s the first horse I’ve ever had I don’t know how fast he is,” Elliott noted. “Usually, as a trainer, you get an idea of how fast they are -- him, I don’t have a clue. He had the speed as a 2 year old. He didn’t have much manners. He wanted to do more than physically he could do. We made the decision to turn him out. Mr. Alborano agreed with me. We put him out and when he came back, I was amazed at the horse I saw, as opposed to the horse I turned out.“

When Artistic Fella won the Robert J. Suslow Series Final on April 21, 2006, it was the start of his eight-race winning streak.

“I worry about the law of averages, but he keeps making an idiot out of me every week by winning again,” Alborano said. “He wants to win. If you cut one of his legs off, he’d still win. That’s his desire. He doesn’t know how to lose.

“To me, it’s pretty much an unbelievable task what he’s done so far,” he noted. “I think everyone can see that. To have a horse like this, it’s like (2004 Horse of the Year) Rainbow Blue, it just keeps winning. I know it’s inevitable; you can’t win every race. I’m happy with the win (Saturday) night, but I have to be a little more realistic, I don’t want to disappoint myself.

“I had always been infatuated with animals and took care of the injured ones,” Alborano recalled. “Sometimes I wonder if the guy upstairs has rewarded me with Artistic Fella because of the way I take care of them. I have about 40 horses and eight dogs. My farm is in New Egypt, New Jersey, not too far from Stanley Dancer’s (former) place. I’ve been here for almost four years. I moved from Brooklyn where I had a 10 by 10 backyard, which was too small to keep a squirrel in. I had also bought a place on the water in Staten Island. It had a permit for horses.”

Alborano is hard pressed to keep his optimism in check. Lifetime, Artistic Fella has won 11 of 16 starts and earned $421,560.

“I have 99.999 out of 100 percent faith that he can do it, which is probably the best percentage you can have,\" said the 42-year-old Alborano, who is in good health but adds that, \"First and foremost I just want to stay alive to see the race, because my nerves are pretty shot.” (Meadowlands)
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