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Looking To Win One For 'Oompa'

Published: May 10, 2016 8:10 pm ET

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When horse owner Peter Mazzella was growing up, he looked up to his grandfather, John Nittolo. It was Nittolo, known as “Oompa,” who introduced a young Mazzella to harness racing -- and ever since then it has been Mazzella’s passion. And although his grandfather is no longer alive, he is still with Mazzella whenever he sends out a horse to compete.

Mazzella races under the stable name Oompa’s Farm Inc. in honour of his grandfather. On Sunday, two Chris Ryder-trained horses co-owned by Mazzella -- Rodeo Romeo and National Seelster -- will participate in the $244,000 Confederation Cup for four-year-old pacers at Flamboro Downs in Ontario. Rodeo Romeo will start from post one while National Seelster will leave from post six.

The nine-horse field also includes Wiggle It Jiggleit, the 2015 U.S. Horse of the Year.

“I used to hang out with my grandfather, go to the farm with him, and that’s how I got into the horses,” said the 57-year-old Mazzella, who as a young child gave his grandfather the name “Oompa” when he couldn’t pronounce “Grandpa,” and the name stuck forever thereafter. “He was like an idol. He lived for the horses. When he was dying, I made him a promise that any horse I ever owned would race under the stable name Oompa. And that’s what I did.

“That’s something I’m kind of proud of. I haven’t had any Wiggle It Jiggleits, but I’ve had some nice horses. It’s something that means a lot to me. He got me started in the horse business. It was a love of his and it’s a love of mine.”

Mazzella, who has a 20-acre farm in Cream Ridge, N.J., owns Rodeo Romeo with Ohio’s Bob Mondillo and New Jersey’s Michael Day. He shares ownership of National Seelster with Mondillo.

The partners bought both horses at the 2013 Standardbred Horse Sale. National Seelster, a son of Bettors Delight-No Strikes Against whose family includes millionaires Strike An Attitude, Delinquent Account and Artiscape, was first for $50,000. Rodeo Romeo, a son of Rocknroll Hanover-Southwind Vanna and a half-brother to recent Pennsylvania Classic winner Check Six, was purchased for $30,000.

Neither horse raced at age two as the connections gave both time to mature physically.

Last year at three, National Seelster won eight of 21 races and earned $203,402. His wins included four preliminary divisions of the New York Sire Stakes, an elimination for the Adios and a preliminary round of the Buddy Gilmour Series. He was often a victim of bad post luck in the big money races; he drew the outermost starting spot or second tier in all four of his starts for $400,000 or more.

National Seelster is winless in two starts this year, heading to the Confederation Cup off a second-place finish to Mel Mara in a conditioned race at the Meadowlands on April 30.

Rodeo Romeo won three of 10 races last year and earned $45,333. All three of his victories came after October and he closed the season with consecutive triumphs in conditioned races at the Meadowlands. This year, he has won four of six races, including the Sagamore Hill Pacing Series championship at Yonkers, and earned $67,660 while hitting the board in every start.

He heads to the Confederation Cup off a win in a conditioned race at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono on May 1.

“When people don’t see horses racing at two they think something happened to them, but it’s better to not race if you’re not quite ready,” Mazzella said. “We just gave them the time they needed. Chris liked both colts. They both came back really strong. We’re happy with both of them.

“They can go to the front, they can come from off the pace; they’re very versatile. They’ve raced against some really top horses in the last year or so. I think they’ve shown what they’re made of. Obviously you need a lot of luck in this game. You have to draw well, stay sound. But I think they should have a good year.”

National Seelster and Rodeo Romeo are eligible to the upcoming Graduate Series, but Mazzella is taking it one race at a time. And that means focusing on the Confederation Cup.

“When you’re racing against horses like Wiggle It Jiggleit and these kinds of horses, you’ve got to take one at a time,” Mazzella said. “Wiggle It Jiggleit isn’t the only good horse in that race, though. There are nine horses in that race and all good horses. Of course Wiggle It Jiggleit is a champion, and he certainly deserves it. He’s a great horse. When I’m not in a race with him, I root for him.

“But I think our horses will race well,” Mazzella added. “Chris is great at prepping horses. You just need to get a good trip and hope for the best.”

First race post time Sunday is 6:00 p.m. Below is the full field for the $244,000 Confederation Cup.

$244,000 Confederation Cup
PP/Horse/Listed Driver/Trainer
1. Rodeo Romeo (Brett Miller–Chris Ryder)
2. My Hero Ron (Yannick Gingras–Ron Burke)
3. Americanprimetime (TBA–Rick Dane)
4. Rockin Ron (Yannick Gingras–Ron Burke)
5. Drachan Hanover (Randy Waples–Marcel Barrieau)
6. National Seelster (Sylvain Filion–Chris Ryder)
7. Rockin In Heaven (Trevor Henry–Dr. Ian Moore)
8. Rock N Roll World (Yannick Gingras–Ron Burke)
9. Wiggle It Jiggleit (Montrell Teague–Clyde Francis)

This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit

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