Louis Rapone Passes

In loving memory of Lou Rapone

Louis Rapone, 98, passed away on March 10, 2024. Mr. Rapone was one of the original members of harness racing’s 1,000 win driving club and was known as one of the premier “gatemen” in harness racing.

Born in Caledonia, New York on July 9, 1925, he lived near the fairgrounds in that town, leading to his long and successful career in harness racing.

Formal schooling ended after grade school but, as he said, “I got a ‘Harvard’ education” beginning at the age of 13 from Mark Kyler. Subsequently, he moved to the Hatchell Stable until he was called into the service and wound up with the Navy. He played in the European Theatre during the war years (1944-1946) and participated in the landings at Anzio, Normandy and Palermo, the latter landing resulting in a severe injury where he was hospitalized for several months.

After being honourably discharged from the service, Mr. Rapone returned to the States and bought his first horse, Flaxey Girl, making his first start at Batavia Downs.

“I learned a lot from the masters like Haughton [Billy], Miller [Delvin] and the Senior Simpson [John] and they taught me just about everything I got to know in treating problems that come up with our horses,” he said years ago.

“I had a ‘knee-knocker’ by the name of Scudder,” he remembered, “and he was a notorious knee knocking pacer and I couldn’t make any progress with him so I turned him into a trotter and he was good going after that, too.”

But Mr. Rapone didn’t make a name for himself with the Scudders of the world but rather with trotters like Grace Frost and Bold Colby and the pacers Jimmie Norman and Pole Adios, among many others.

“Pole Adios was a nasty thing,” he recalled, “nasty but very game; but nasty enough that he had to be trained to a pick-up truck.”

Pole Adios was one of the rare sub-2:00 horses back in the late 1950s and early 1960s leading Mr. Rapone to be in high demand as a rare catch-driver.

Even prior to that, Delvin Miller realized the talent in Mr. Rapone and had him catch-drive Dale Frost for him at Vernon Downs in a stakes event, which he won.

“Yeah,” he chuckled, “he beat some pretty good horseflesh like Dotties Pick, Speedy Pick and Adios Harry. He could pace in [1]:58 when that kind of mile was really something.”

Longtime friend Odell Thompson recently reflected on his 60-year friendship with Lou Rapone saying, “I first met Louie back at Washington Park back in the early '60s.

“He was one terrific horseman and he would get messages all day long at the stable gate because all these folks wanted Louie to drive for them.”

One of Mr. Rapone’s great wins was in the early 1950s, as he previously related, “It was my birthday and I was driving a pacer that hadn’t won in a couple of years — I can’t remember her name [note: Liza Jane Grattan, with a mark at 2:24] and she won in 2:09 and a piece and you’d thought she won a $100,000 stake because she broke 2:10.”

It was Lou Rapone’s 27th birthday and she lowered her mark by :24.2 seconds.

During his career, Mr. Rapone was successful at such venues as Hollywood Park and Washington Park, both one mile ovals; the seven-eighths track at Vernon Downs; Sportsman’s Park and their fabled five-eighths surface; and all half-mile tracks in New York.

His 120 pound frame carried him into the winner’s circle 2,069 times, primarily in an era when racing was conducted eight months a year.

When asked about his greatest moment in racing, Mr. Rapone had said, “No doubt, it was Sept. 20, 1958 when I won four races at Batavia Downs. I can tell you their names, too: Governor Baldwin, Dixie Lee Direct, Will Counsel and Blue Skylark.

“I’ll never forget it because that was the day my daughter, Betty Lou, was born. It just doesn’t get any better than that!”

It hasn’t been all a bed of roses for Mr. Rapone as his son, Patsy, passed away from brain cancer in 1996 and another son, Louis, has passed as well.

“He was a helluva horseman,” Lou said about Patsy, “and you never get over anything like that — losing a son — and I lost two beautiful ones.”

Mr. Rapone is survived by his daughter, Betty Lou (Thomas) Buckley; sons, Francis (Nancy) and Louis DiSanto; granddaughter, Jennifer Allums; grandsons, Christopher (Liz) Buckley and Aaron Buckley; and great-grandson, Elijah Buckley.

Information on services for Mr. Rapone are pending.

Please join Standardbred Canada in offering condolences to the family and friends of Lou Rapone.

Have something to say about this? Log in or create an account to post a comment.