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HOF-bound Toscano hopes to win Yonkers Trot

August 28, 2018
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Linda Toscano felt as though she had her wings clipped when at the age of 13 her family moved from Brooklyn to Long Island. But the teenager soon fell in love with horses, which led her soaring to historic heights in harness racing, topped most recently by her election to the sport's Hall of Fame.
 
Toscano, though, is not finished flying. The trainer will be looking to add to her résumé when she sends Helpisontheway to Saturday's $500,000 Yonkers Trot for 3-year-olds, the second jewel in the Trotting Triple Crown, at Yonkers Raceway. Toscano has started only one horse previously in the Yonkers Trot, Market Share, who finished third in 2012.
 
Helpisontheway was not staked to the event, but was entered for a $30,000 supplemental payment. Toscano's Camelot Stable co-owns the colt with Andrew Cohen's The Bay's Stable and Jeff Gural's Little E LLC.
 
"It's exciting," Toscano said. "It's even more exciting to own part of one (in the race). He has been the biggest and most pleasant surprise we've had in a long time."

Helpisontheway won one of eight races last year, when he was more likely to gallop behind the starting gate (three times) than hit the board (twice). His victory, a 1:55.4 score at Vernon Downs in the New York Excelsior Series, and a third-place finish in the Kindergarten Classic championship were enough to maintain Toscano's hope for the future.

The future arrived this year, with Helpisontheway winning six of 10 races and finishing second twice. He brings a four-race win streak to the Yonkers Trot, including a career-best 1:51.4 triumph from post 12 in the Dennis Drazin Trot on Hambletonian Day, Aug. 4, at The Meadowlands.

"He had tons of ability, but mentally he was just not there," Toscano said. "When he came back this year, right off the bat his qualifiers were good, he behaved himself every start. He just basically grew up. That's all. He mentally matured. And he's been a pleasure through the whole year. He's done everything I could ask of him, and then some."

Among Helpisontheway's victories this season is a 1:55.3 win in a division of the New York Sires Stakes at Yonkers. In the Yonkers Trot, he will face a field that includes Empire Breeders Classic winner Six Pack, NYSS stalwart The Veteran, and last year's Kindergarten Classic champ Tito.
 
"Because we're playing with house money at this point, (the Yonkers Trot) was a reasonable supplement for the amount of money you get to race for," Toscano said. "We tested him around Yonkers and he seemed to get around the track real well. The group decided to give it a shot.
 
"He's got some real competition. We know what we're up against, but at the same time, he deserves the chance."

Toscano is no stranger to success with trotters, conditioning four Dan Patch Award-winners including 2012 Horse of the Year Chapter Seven and 2012 Hambletonian winner Market Share. Her other trotting honorees were Walner in 2016 and Giant Mermaid in 1995. She also won an award with pacer Heston Blue Chip in 2012.

She was the first female trainer to win the Hambletonian, first to be honored as Trainer of the Year (in 2012) and now first to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

"I don't think any of us do this with any intentions of ever thinking toward Hall of Fame," Toscano said. "I think we start because we love what we do. You can't dream this big. I don't know how to explain how much it means to me.

"While it's a single honor, it's a collaborative effort that gets you here. I thank all my owners, and the people who have been behind me, and Brad (husband Brad McNinch), who works side-by-side with me and gets no recognition or accolades while I get it all."

Toscano was introduced to racing through trips to Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga with her father. After the family moved to Long Island, her mother suggested riding lessons and several years later Toscano got a job at Roosevelt Raceway. She worked for trainer Buddy Regan before starting her own stable in 1984.

"I was 13 years old when we moved to Long Island," Toscano said. "My wings were clipped. I basically had freedom in Brooklyn. I had a bus pass. I traveled. I could get anywhere I needed to go. I couldn't get a thing (on Long Island) without a ride from my parents. I was not a happy kid. I was just miserable.

"My mom asked if I would like to take horseback riding lessons. I thought I would try it, and I was immediately bitten by the bug. I had a friend who started working (at Roosevelt) in 1975 and she said she knew I was thinking of becoming a vet, but why not go to the racetrack for a different type of experience. I went down to the racetrack and the rest is history. I just fell in love with the Standardbreds." (Ken Weingartner/USTA)

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