The Official Newsletter of the
Shenandoah Valley Chapter #313
Korean War Veterans Association
Portal to the Past
(The following is taken in part from an article that appeared in the July 2016 of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred magazine written by Jeff Gilleas.)
Anthony (Tony) Bencivenga was born in Hoboken, NJ in 1929. He lived in a very distinctive Italian neighborhood, where his next door neighbor just happened to be the one and only, "Ole Blue Eyes" himself, Frank Sinatra.
"My family and I lived 413 Monroe Street and Frank was at 415 Monroe Street."
Tony Bencivienga & friend
As a young boy, Tony regularly rode on his grandfather's vegetable wagon. "I guess you could call my family blue collar, my relatives held down a varied assortment of jobs including dock workers, politicians and an occa- sional wise guy or two.
Back in my era communities like mine were patrolled daily by mounted police and this is where my original interest in horses began."
Tony recalled that while in high school his bantam weight size allowed him to discover the trade of exercising horses at Ho-Ho-Kus Trainig Center near Ridgewood, NJ.
"During this period my uncle, a 'made man', asked Stanley (Skippy) Shapoff to take me under his employ at old Aqueduct Racetrack."
Following a brief stint there Tony's resume begins to look like a who's who in the journal of American racing families.
That summer he went to Red Bank, NJ, where he galloped at Brookdale Farm, one of racing's true powerhouses for generations. "It was an honor to work for Brookdale. They had some of the nation's
finest stallions and broodmares and it afforded me a chance to quickly return home to my tight-knit Jersey household. Remember, in those days you had to travel to pursue your dreams. Literally across the street in Red Bank was another well established Thoroughbred breeding operation, Greentree Stable. I was 17 to 18 years old and when I worked there, making $11.22 a week, but it wasn't money that kept me in that location, it was horses like One Hitter, Blue Border and Capot. This was the era of the Whitneys and everything was larger than life. It was also where I heard stable whispers that I might be jockey material."
Tony jokingly says that at 106 pounds he was perceived to be way too heavy to ride, but took a chance on the advice of a friend and headed for the Detroit Jockey School.
"This would have been around 1948. I met Harry Trotsek there and he became my instructor. Trotsek's development of young riders was well known. Johnny Sellers, Kenny Church and John Rotz were some of the most memorable. Interestingly, in those days apprentices rode in races versus apprentices and journeymen competed against fellow journeymen."
Soon afterward Tony's contract was picked up by the Mimosa Stock Farm, but a conflict called the Korean War halted his aspirations to ride. In 1951, he was drafted by Uncle Sam and sent to medic school in San Antonio TX at Fort Sam Houston.
"I was assigned to the 351st Transportation Group. In July of 1953, I was bound for home and my first stop was Thistledown in Cleveland, Ohio. I broke my maiden on a horse named Imperial War, but as my height and weight increased, I took steps to alter course and took out my first trainer's license,"
Tony quickly grew weary of his run-of-the-mill claiming stable and in 1956 decided to return to the land of milk and honey, going to work for Calumet Farm.
Established in 1924, Calumet Farm's founding owner was William Monroe Wright. Throughout its