Day At The Track

An unsung hero of Roosevelt Raceway

09:39 PM 14 Jun 2018 NZST
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John Santoro, harness racing John Santoro, harness racing Kash Minbar, harness racing
John Santoro outside his blacksmith shop at Roosevelt Raceway
John Santoro smiling as he works in his shop at Roosevelt Raceway
Jimmy Cruise, Sr. with world champion trotter Kash Mindar that Santoro shod.

John Santoro, aka Santini on the track, was considered as one of the top blacksmiths on Roosevelt Raceway in the late 1970's and until the day the harness racetrack closed in '88--when --John's reputation followed him to Meadowlands and Yonkers.

Santoro developed a reputation as one of the leading practitioners of his craft. He was sought after by national and international trainers, drivers and owners. Santoro's leathered and calloused hands crafted and molded the horseshoes that enabled champion horses and their drivers and trainers such as Jimmy Cruise Sr., Jimmy Cruise Jr., John Chapman Sr., John Chapman Jr; John Paterson Jr.; John Paterson Sr., Buddy Gilmore and Herve Filion,, [just to name a few] to break harness racing records.

Dr. Bernard Brennan, Roosevelt's Veterinarian called upon Santoro to work on difficult cases. Today's blacksmith, or farrier, has access to technology and standards that were established throughout the 1960s to the 1990's. In the 70's and 80's Santoro relied on his ingenuity and his ability to see things that others did not. Santoro experimented with developing patches for the horses that had problems such as quarter-crack and could not be shod. As Santoro still says today " a horse in the barn does not make money".

Patches had already been around in the 70's and 80's; but there was a lot of room for improvement.

Santoro explains that the patches did not stick, or stay in place and worst of all-- they did not let the horses foot heal. Santoro's drive to identify a solution led him to experimenting with proxies for the patch and soaking solutions.

Santoro finally found the right mix and developed a soaking solution and patch that saved many horses and races.

Over the years, Santoro's work in Roosevelt, Yonkers and Meadowlands, was never overlooked. Owners, trainers and drivers brought their horses to him because they knew that an improperly shod horse caused an awkward stride, back strain, muscle pulls or worse conditions...besides risking the race.

As Jimmy Cruise Jr. says to this day, "Johnny was the best--there was no other like Johnny that could shoe horses like he did". Santoro worked 8 to 12 horses a day for various trainers. Today, blacksmiths are typically assisted by grooms, who hold the animal. I recall walking into Santoro's Black Smith shop while he was under the horse, pulling off the old shoe, smoothing the bottom of the hoof with an emery board, holding the new shoe over the hoof, then securing it by driving nails through the hoof wall--all by himself. I remember how backbreaking it was for him to work with animals that were prone to fight and flight."

Santoro has not forgotten the man who taught him his craft, David Spence, a giant in the world of blacksmiths in harness racing . Santoro forged lifetime friends while crafting his custom made horseshoes. Jimmy Cruise Sr. and John Chapman Sr. served as a mentors for him and Cruise Jr. well as Chapman Jr. were and continue to be more like brothers than just friends.

Santoro was a blacksmith for more than 20 years. His determination, self-reliance and self-deprecating humor have helped him through life's challenges--including a terminal illness.

Today, he tells his stories of the famous horses he shod and describes their quirky personalities. He savors memories and victories of a place where Santoro--or "Santini"-- worked in the background, in late morning or early afternoon, after training hours had stopped, and before the races began--a place, that while shaping his horse shoes one by one--he contributed to shaping the history of harness racing--a place where he should never be forgotten--Roosevelt Raceway.

by Maria V. Santoro-Delgado, Ph.D., Santoro's sister.

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