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'Amateur' Has Been Around The Block

Published: July 19, 2017 11:56 am ET

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The $250,000 Spirit of Massachusetts Trot will be the headline race of the live card at Plainridge Park on Friday, July 28. But there will also be many other interesting contests on the bill to round out the day’s action.

The New England Amateur Harness Drivers Club (NEAHDC) will be competing that day and everyone involved with that organization can’t wait to be a part of it.

The NEAHDC is made up of men and women of all ages who maintain amateur status by not having raced professionally in the last ten years. That means they don’t get paid by other people to drive their horses. The ages of the members are all over the board, but the one thing they all have in common is their generosity and love of the sport.

The main function of the group is to raise money to donate to charity. The result of their work is fulfilling on its own, but it also gives the public a look at a side of the people of harness racing they seldom get to see.

In order to do this, the amateur drivers donate their driving percentage cheques to the club’s general fund to help make the contributions. They are allowed to drive in regular races, too, but if they get a percentage cheque there, they must turn that money over to the club as well.

The NEAHDC currently has 30 drivers in the fold and its work raised $11,700 in 2016. The bulk of that was donated to 16 different charities that included the Classy Lane fire fund, Living Bread Food Pantry, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Autism Speaks, Boston Children’s Hospital, Harness Horse Youth Foundation, Standardbred Retirement Foundation, Sunshine Horses and the American Cancer Association.

One of the top drivers competing in the NEAHDC is 76-year-old Dan Tuccillo.

Tuccillo owns General Borings of Waterbury, Connecticut; a construction trade contractor serving the needs of industrial, commercial and residential customers. Tuccillo is semi-retired now and his son runs the day to day operations of the business.

But semi-retired doesn’t mean he’s playing golf. It means he has more time to spend at the farm getting his horses ready to compete in the amateur races at Plainridge Park every week.

“I went to Green Mountain Park back in the early 1970s and didn’t really know what harness racing was at the time. Back then if you trained the horse you drove the horse and I noticed that a lot of the guys were on the larger side. I weighed 150 pounds and thought I’d have a real advantage over someone who weighed 200. So driving started to interest me,” said Tuccillo.

“I worked for different trainers on the weekends. I drove from my home in Connecticut to Rockingham Park or Hinsdale Raceway to clean stalls, wash horses and eventually jog them. I just wanted to get my foot in the door. Eventually I got my qualifying license and then my regular license.”

Tuccillo started driving at age 35 in 1976. He did some catch driving for other people, but mostly drove his own stock. He’s always trained off the farm and always had his family in the barn with him.

“Racing has always been a family thing. My wife, Helen, was always by my side in the barn, shipping and racing, and my son, Dan Jr., started driving at 17 and is now 55; still driving professionally and still training with me on the farm. Between us we are campaigning six horses this year,” said Tuccillo.

Tuccillo had some good horses when he raced professionally. In 1984 he had a filly named Wynns Mabel By (Suit Coat-Wynns Bonnie May 2:02.3, $46,496) that was the Massachusetts Sire Stake two-year-old pacing filly of the year. At the time, those stakes were raced mainly on a circuit of small tracks in the state like Brockton and Plainville (prior to Plainridge), besides Foxboro Park which was the only major oval.

“It was fun racing at those farm tracks. There was no gate; you just couldn’t go past the rail horse until you got the word ‘go.’ The state funded the sire stakes and although the money wasn’t great, it was still pretty good considering you could buy a yearling back then for $1,000,” Tuccillo recalled.

After running his business full time and racing on the side, Tuccillo decided to get out of racing for a while in the early 1990s. But when Plainridge originally opened in 1999, he wanted to get back in with a couple horses. But his sights were set on the new amateur program that was starting up there instead.

“When the amateur races started at Plainridge we were racing for peanuts; just barely enough to cover the expenses. But now with the Race Horse Development Fund in place, the purses are very good and the competition has gotten much tougher because there are better horses competing for more money,” said Tuccillo.

The two horses Tuccillo competes now are Artomatic Pilot (Western Hanover-Artomatic 1:51.3, $351,359) and Silvio Dante (Artiscape-Lady Nelson 1:54.2, $121,028) who he just blew up the tote board with on Tuesday (July 11).

After finding himself a distant seventh around the last turn, Tuccillo rallied Silvio Dante down the stretch and passed the entire field to win by a head and return a whopping $159.60. That win mutuel also triggered a $33,732.60 trifecta payout.

This year’s leaderboard shows that Dan Tuccillo currently sits in third place with 103 points behind 28-year-old Alex Richardson who leads with 111. This shows the age dynamic of the group and how well they all compete against one another.

Tuccillo’s career stats are solid for someone who has been involved in the sport as a full-time, part-time driver. He has 192 wins from 2,243 starts and $453,333 in earnings. He also has another 58 wins and $155,221 as a trainer.

Although he will be racing himself on the 28th of July, Tuccillo seems as excited to witness the best Open trotters in North America compete at his home track.

“I think the Spirit of Massachusetts Trot is the best thing they could do for the state and this track. It’s going to bring people to the track and make more people take notice of just what this place is. Because for years, people who lived within a couple miles of this track didn’t even know it was here. Now it’s become somewhat of a Mecca and the crowds and handle just keep getting better,” said Tuccillo.

(Plainridge Park)

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