Local boy makes good at Meadowlands
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Ken Tucci spent the weekends of his youth at Meadowlands Racetrack, but he never imagined he would one day be standing in its winner’s circle as a horse owner.
“There was a group of four or five of us and we liked harness racing,” said the Moonachie, NJ native. ”I have no idea why! Friday night at the Meadowlands was our night out with the guys.”
The 55-year-old Tucci, now residing in Wood Ridge, owns and manages several office and industrial buildings in the Meadowlands region with his brother, Tom. A few years ago, Tucci decided to scale back on his involvement in the business in order to devote more time to his passion for racing.
“About four years ago, I pretty much left the day-to-day operation and basically retired,” he said. “I always wanted to get more involved with the horses, but when I do something, I like to do it right. I never really had the time through the years, so I would just own a piece of a horse for about 20 years. I was busy working and raising a family. Now I spend 20 to 30 hours a week doing this, researching and managing my horses, and I love it. I try to keep about a dozen to 15 horses. I have horses with Aaron Lambert and Noel Daley, and I manage our stable with them.”
Tucci admits to being a statistics freak and his meticulous research has led to a string of successful purchases, including Mr Massimo who will race in the invitational on Saturday night at the Meadowlands. Mr Massimo, trained by Aaron Lambert, has won three of his last four races at the Meadowlands, including a sparkling 1:49.1 mile on February 12. The 5-year-old gelded son of Astreos-Killer Queen will start from post five in the $32,000 third race Saturday with Ron Pierce at the lines.
“I claim one once in a while and often look at a 4-year-old we can improve on,” Tucci said. “Some of them at that age haven’t reached their potential. I watch the replays and even look at their pedigrees. I claimed Mr Massimo for $25,000 at Yonkers last August.
“One of the keys with Mr. Massimo was he never seemed to settle at one particular track. He’s a half-brother to a millionaire, Moving Pictures, so I felt there were some bloodlines there. I never expected him to become this good. I thought he could be a $40,000 or $50,000 claimer. He hasn’t put in a bad race since we got him.
“Mr Massimo is not a quick-footed horse,” he continued. “He’s not a horse who finds his speed in a step or two. Aaron Lambert always felt he should just come first over and the horse just doesn’t want anybody in his way. We thought bringing him to the Meadowlands would help him reach his potential and stretch him out. After that 1:49.1 win on February 12, we paid him into the Levy Series [at Yonkers] and a few other stakes. He’s beaten some nice horses, but we’re not sure if he belongs with the top ones.”
Tucci co-owns Mr Massimo with Richard Williams of Belleville, NJ, his friend since childhood.
“This is his first horse, and I invited him to take a piece,” Tucci said. “I told him I really feel good about this horse, we could have a lot of fun and make a few bucks. He’s still pinching himself. He’s still waiting to wake up.”
Mcclelland, who won a leg of the Complex Series in January, was another successful claim for Tucci. The 5-year-old Cam’s Card Shark gelding is in for a $55,000 tag in the fifth race for claimers on Saturday night.
“We claimed Mcclelland for $25,000 at Yonkers last November, and I knew why people were staying away from him,” Tucci said. “He was making a break every four or five starts, but he showed a lot of speed. I watched the replays, and it didn’t seem mechanical with him, just temperamental.
“I also thought he’d do well at the Meadowlands,” he continued. “I entered him in the Complex, and he won a prep race for the series, which was a confidence booster. Then he won a weak division. He drew outside and had a couple of no-chance miles after that. [In his last start on Feb. 19], Yannick Gingras left with him when the winds were strong, he veered in and caused interference. He won the start before in a lifetime best of 1:51.2. We gave all three of our horses [racing Saturday night] two weeks off and they are sharp.”
Tucci will also send out Woodstock Hanover, a horse he has had since the beginning of his career, in the second race Saturday night. The 5-year-old son of Bettor’s Delight-Western Duel earned $116,947 last season and counted two legs of the Clyde Hirt Series among his six victories. This year, he has yet to find the winner’s circle in five starts.
“I bought Woodstock Hanover as a yearling [for $65,000 at Harrisburg] with Adam Victor and Son and David Scharf, then purchased the horse for myself at the Harrisburg mixed sale in 2009 for $60,000,” he said. “Glenn Ellis bought into him a few years ago, and eventually I bought him out.
“The horse has had a breathing problem,” he continued. “He’s got blazing early speed, but you can’t use it. His throat will get inflamed. You can only float out with him, after that you can do what you want. He’s actually in deceptively sharp form, yet he lacks that versatility, and that can hurt you on a mile track. The problem is not as bad as it used to be, and it’s probably more psychological at this point. He’s had the palate surgery, we treat it and we’ve tried everything.”
Tucci also has some promising young prospects for the 2011 stakes season.
“I have Townslight Hanover, who won the 2-year-old New York Sires Stakes championship last year,” he said. “He’s eligible to the North America Cup. He was a private purchase from Hanover Shoe Farms. He had an injury above his ankle and they couldn’t run him through the sale because of the way it looked. We took a chance with him and it’s worked out. He’s a Bettor’s Delight out of Towner’s Image.
“I also have Torrington, a 3-year-old by Art Major [who finished sixth in his career debut Thursday night],” he added. “He was a $34,000 Harrisburg yearling. He had a sore tendon last year. Noel Daley said he was his fastest 2-year-old last year, and wanted to shut him down. He’s very talented, heavily staked and we’re bringing him along slowly.”
Tucci also shared his thoughts on the future of the harness racing industry in New Jersey and beyond.
“I’m a firm believer this sport can stand on its own,” he said. “I think it’s a viable product, and I’m being very objective about it. I have my opinions, and there’s no doubt the sport lacks serious marketing. However, it’s difficult to do when the sport isn’t united. You need a kind of central governing body. It’s like the only professional sport that doesn’t have it. There has to be some sort of coordinated effort. That is the backbone problem in this sport. Each state and track does what they please on their own. It’s like we’re battling each other.
“I believe the big breeding farms need to gather together, organize and do something,” he added. “I live in Wood Ridge, which is nearby, and the average person doesn’t know anything about racing and they’re intimidated. I run into so many people that would love to experience it.
“My son brought up a great point. He asked where can you go in the New York City area, park for free, get in for a dollar, bring a few bucks with family and friends, have a few beers and maybe even win some money?” (Meadowlands)