Tribute to "Joe" pays dividends at Big M
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It is not unusual for Anthony Ruggeri to include the name "Joe" in the names of his racehorses. It is a way for Ruggeri to honor a late uncle who introduced him to harness racing when he was a kid.
Western Joe is doing his part to make the tribute a winner.
A 4-year-old pacing stallion, Western Joe has won 13 of 34 career races for Ruggeri, who bred and owns the horse. Since a fourth-place finish in the Progress Pace, Western Joe has captured five of eight starts at the Meadowlands and is coming off back-to-back victories in the preferred.
He returns to action Saturday in the preferred at the Big M, where his rivals will include world-record-holder Dr J Hanover, who is making his seasonal debut.
"He's been doing great," Ruggeri said. "We're very happy. He loves the Meadowlands, he loves the mile track, and he's been getting a lot of good trips. It's been nice.
"I love racing at the Meadowlands. Any time I have a chance to race at the Meadowlands, that's where I want to be. To me, that's the premier track to race at. Winning the preferred there against some of the millionaires we've been racing against is like a dream."
Western Joe is a son of Western Ideal out of Ante Fay, who raced for Ruggeri in the mid-2000s.
"I claimed her at the Meadowlands," Ruggeri said. "She was a tough, tough horse. She got hurt, but I wanted to keep her around. I figured I would breed her. That was really my first experience in the breeding end of it. Every one of her foals made it to the races. Some did better than others, but besides being a good racehorse she was a good broodmare also.
"I (recently) donated her to a companionship program in Canada. She was getting up in age. I was thinking about getting another mare soon to start the whole process again, but I haven't done it yet."
Western Joe is one of three Joes out of Ante Fay. Joe Palz won a leg of the 2011 Junior Trendsetter Series and finished second in the final on his way to six figures in purses. Bet On Joe was unraced last year at age 2, but is getting ready for his 3-year-old campaign. Western Joe and Bet On Joe are Ruggeri's only two horses at the moment.
"Joe was an uncle of mine that got me interested in racing when I was a little kid," said Ruggeri, who owns a heating and air conditioning business on Long Island. "He took me to the Meadowlands when I was young; we used to go there all the time. He helped me buy my first horse."
Western Joe is trained by Chris Choate, who has conditioned horses for Ruggeri since 2002.
"He didn't have a lot of horses, but I noticed his horses were always live and in good condition," Ruggeri said. "I asked him if he would train a horse or two for me. He does a great job. Some of these little guys are really unsung heroes."
Western Joe is being pointed toward the Graduate Series, which is restricted to 4-year-olds, later this season.
"We have him staked fairly lightly; nothing crazy," Ruggeri said. "He's a 4-year-old and you know how tough it can be. There are a lot of good horses out there. We have him staked to all the 4-year-old races; the Graduate, the Confederation Cup. And we put him in a couple of things at the Meadowlands because we love racing there and we put him in the Breeders Crown. Hopefully he keeps going forward and hopefully we've got a free-for-all pacer. We'll see what happens." (Ken Weingartner/USTA)