By Alex Campbell
A love of pedigrees and buying horses eventually led Tony Gattellaro to a training career at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Ontario.
The 33-year-old native of Aurora, Ontario, got exposed to horse racing through family ties to the sport. Gattellaro’s grandfather is owner and breeder Mike Nosowenko, and Tony’s father, Joe Gattellaro, owned horses. Gattellaro got an inside look at the sport of horse racing through his family’s ownership of racehorses as a young child and would even pretend to buy horses himself out of sales catalogs.
“As a kid, seeing the jockeys in colors and being around the racetrack and experiencing all of the excitement, I just kind of caught the bug at a young age,” he said. “My grandpa and my dad would put a sales book in my hand. Literally, I was eight or nine years old and I was playing with a sales book, memorizing stallion names and what not. That’s where I got that side of the bug in terms of pedigrees, sales and purchasing horses. I was doing mock sales purchases and following the horses.”
Gattellaro admitted that he lost a bit of interest in the sport for a brief period of time while growing up, as he spent time engaged in other activities. Gattellaro was participating in several different sports throughout his childhood, including hockey, lacrosse and golf. He would eventually make his way back to the sport in high school, however, thanks to a couple of horses, his grandfather owned, including stakes-placed horses Tacky Affair and Tamara.
“It wasn’t until later in high school that my grandpa had a couple of good horses. I just loved going to the track at that point to watch them and I kind of re-caught the bug that I had a young age. It just never went away from that point,” he said.
After high school, Gattellaro attended Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, and upon graduation he moved out west to figure out what he wanted to do. As the 2009 Kentucky Derby drew closer, Gattellaro decided that he wanted to pursue a career in horse racing, and reached out to a representative from the Canadian branch of Adena Springs in his hometown of Aurora for work.
“I kind of had that ‘aha’ moment where I just said this is what I need to be doing,” Gattellaro said. “That day, I sent an email to Dermot Carty at Adena Springs and said I wanted to get into the game. He asked if I could get there on Monday and I was there on Monday. I just interviewed with them and explained myself. I told them my background and they gave me a chance.”
Gattellaro said he began working with broodmares when he first started at Adena Springs but wound up working in a number of different departments on the farm, including in the racing department, before moving over to the breeding side selling stallion seasons. While working in the racing department, Gattellaro had the chance to work closely with accomplished trainers Sean Smullen and Jim Day, who both had an impact on Gattellaro’s training methodology.
“Both are great horsemen, have unbelievable resumes and have been a lot of places,” Gattellaro said. “Sean gave me a lot of patience. He’s really good at nurturing his horses and dealing with owners. Jim was more aggressive in my pursuit in believing in myself. He saw that I had the bug. When we were done with work, he would spend an hour or two talking about the old days. Even though it was a short time with Jim, I learned a lot from him just based on those talks that I had with him.”
Gattellaro said his main motivation for beginning to train was to have an opportunity to purchase horses.
“Being in Canada, it’s a different market than a lot of other places in the world where bloodstock agents aren’t really commonly used,” he said. “There’s maybe a handful of guys that control the bigger stables and have the bigger clients. My focus was on buying horses, and I had this realization that a lot of trainers here purchase horses for their clients. It was at that point that I shifted focus on learning to train and kind of looking towards that.”
Gattellaro was getting set to move back to the west coast again to work on a project with Andy Stronach when Stronach presented him with an opportunity to get into training.
“It was in a car ride there that we had a discussion,” Gattellaro said. “He presented me with an opportunity to give me some horses to learn how to train. It was a good opportunity because I didn’t want to just step into the deep end here at Woodbine. It’s my belief that you only have one chance to do it right. It was actually a perfect storm where I was able to train horses on the west coast and learn how to take care of horses and build my trade.”
Gattellaro spent three years on the west coast training horses at Portland Meadows, Hastings Racecourse, and Emerald Downs, and recorded eight wins from 115 starts to go along with 19 runner-up finishes and 16 third-place finishes between 2014 and 2016. Among the more memorable horses Gattellaro trained while out west included Dynasheals, who was Gattellaro’s first winner.
Gattellaro’s plan was always to return to Woodbine, and in 2016, he made his way back east after setting up a small breeding operation a few years prior. Among the first horses Gattellaro raced back at Woodbine were a pair of homebreds out of mares he had purchased while working at Adena Springs. Gattellaro’s first Woodbine starter, Hockey Hair, was out of Tetherette, while Fresh Princess was out of Kamaina Rose, a mare Gattellaro had purchased for $800 at the 2011 Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society Ontario Division’s Winter Mixed Sale. At the time Gattellaro purchased her, Kamaina Rose was in foal to Macho Uno, and Gattellaro went on to sell that foal as a weanling for $20,000 at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale in 2013. Gattellaro said it was the sale of the weanling that really got his business off and running…
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