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Bongiorno On Transition To Training

Published: November 11, 2017 12:02 pm ET

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Since taking out her trainers’ license in June, Jenn Bongiorno has enjoyed immediate and steady success at Yonkers Raceway. She’s sent out 18 winners from 73 starts for an 18 percent strike rate and posted another 27 placings. Despite her flying start and a contingent of top-class horses in her stable, a victory in the lucrative local Open ranks has proven elusive. Bongiorno will have another chance at her first Open win with Georgies Pockets in Sunday’s $40,000 Open Handicap Trot.

“I couldn’t be happier with the results. I give full credit to the horses I have and the owners I have behind me,” Bongiorno said. “The owners that I have behind me, big names that are able to provide us with horses that have talent and are able to go out there and win races. I definitely own my own horses in the barn, but you have names like Jerry Silva, Gene Kurzrok, Howard Taylor. I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”

This spring, Bongiorno found herself increasingly involved in managing the horses she owned while still balancing a full-time position as a racing broadcaster at The Meadowlands. Bongiorno knew her true passion was with the horses and with the help of her younger brother, driver Joe Bongiorno, decided to take the plunge into training her own stable.

“I felt like I was constantly at work just worrying about the horses I owned and talking to different trainers that I’m friendly with and wanting to learn more about that end of the game,” she said. “So really, I just took a leap of faith and I knew I would have the support of my brother, which is immense.

“I definitely feel I made the right decision,” she continued. “I go to work every day and I think I was at the point at The Meadowlands where it became a job for me, and now with what I’m doing, it’s not. I’m so passionate, I’m so happy. Every morning when I walk in, those horses are like kids to me. I love each and every one of them and they’re what makes me happy.”

Bongiorno didn’t have to wait long to taste success. She scored her first win as a conditioner in her very first start when five-year-old pacer Gratian Hanover won a $14,500 overnight from post eight as a 9-1 outsider on June 20.

“My first win, I’ve never felt that level of gratification before,” she said. “My first start was with my boy Gratian Hanover. He’s my absolute pet. Luckily, crazily enough, we had a win together. It was awesome.”

Bongiorno will look to add to her win tally when Georgies Pockets races from post four in this week’s Open Trot. Joe Bongiorno will take the lines behind the 8-1 morning line chance who will face six rivals, including 3-1 favourite Homen Dry, a winner of two straight local Opens, International Trot starter In Secret, and millionaire mare Charmed Life. Buen Camino, Tight Lines, and Wings Of Royalty complete the field.

“Opens at Yonkers are always difficult. It being a seven-horse field is not the worst thing, that’s for sure,” Bongiorno said. “He has speed, he can do it from off the pace. Versatile horses are always good to have. He’s given me no reason to think he can’t go with this group. Sometimes I think he might be a step below them, but he’s beaten Homen Dry, he’s finished with In Secret before, so I see no reason why he won’t be competitive in there.”

Although Georgies Pockets has posted three wins and another five placings from 15 starts and earned $86,114 since debuting for Bongiorno in June, the son of Muscle Mass almost didn’t come to her stable. After an agent approached her to buy him, Bongiorno felt the price was too high and passed on purchasing the four-year-old. However, when browsing online listings soon after, Bongiorno’s affinity for sire Muscle Mass proved fruitful as Georgies Pockets appeared in the results for a more reasonable price. Bongiorno took him and brought Kurzrok’s Our Horse Cents Stables on as a partner.

“What a nice horse he is. He was supposed to be in the Harrisburg Sale and we took him out because he is exactly what you would want in a horse,” Bongiorno said. “He has the most awesome personality. You walk in the barn and he’s the most spoiled horse. He comes running out, he just can’t wait to be around you. You would never know he’s a stud, which is cool.

“He’s flawlessly gaited,” she continued. “Joe said after the first time he drove him, ‘you can leave with this horse on a loose line at Yonkers,’ and there’s not many horses you can do that there with. He’s perfectly gaited, perfectly sound and when you have horses like that, they make it as easy as can be.”

Georgies Pockets’ style has proven a perfect fit for Yonkers Raceway. After disappointing on the five-eighths oval at Pocono, Bongiorno moved Georgies Pockets back to Yonkers, where he posted two straight wins at the non-winners of $10,000 and $20,000 levels in July. His most recent score, an eight-length romp for non-winners of $30,000 last five came on October 7.

“One thing about him is, he is a half-mile horse. There are certain horses that aren’t going to pick up on a big track, and he’s one of them,” Bongiorno explained. “He doesn’t really leave Yonkers now because we know he’s not going to be able to pick up his speed. He’ll go as fast on a half as he will on a mile. That’s just his deal.”

Georgies Pockets’ most impressive effort in his trainer’s eyes came not when winning, but as the runner-up in four-year-old Dia Monde’s track record-setting 1:54.2 effort in the Open Handicap Trot on September 23.

Although she’s being realistic about her chances in this week’s Open Trot, Bongiorno thinks Georgies Pockets has great upside for her stable going forward. If he can pull off an Open victory, it will be one the young conditioner won’t forget.

“He’s only four, I think he’s only going to get better. He’s a beautiful-looking horse, he’s strong, and I can’t say it enough, he’s so happy, he loves his work. I think going forward he’s going to be a good thing to have in the barn,” she said. “I have three trotters that I think the world of racing: B Yoyo at Pocono and Rubber Duck and Georgie at Yonkers. Anyone would be so lucky to have one of them and to have all three of them in the barn is a true blessing.

“I’m just so thankful for my life right now. I wake up and I feel so happy and so blessed. I’m very thankful to everyone I have supporting me,” she continued. “I think my brother is an incredible horseman and a great driver. ‘Georgie’ is a rockstar and I’m so proud of the horse he’s become. I’m still searching for that Open win at Yonkers, but I really will be very, very excited about that. If ‘Georgie’ can do it, with his personality, he would be so proud of himself.”

First post time Sunday at Yonkers Raceway is 11:25 a.m.

(with files from SOA of NY)

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