A Thoroughbred trainer since 1958, Durso spent his time on the New Jersey-South Florida circuit, enjoying great success with many runners, most notably with multiple graded stakes winner Frisk Me Now, who raced in the colors of his wife, Carol Dender.
“Bob was a great trainer and an even greater friend to horse racing,” said Robert Kulina, vice president and general manager of Monmouth Park. “Having known Bob for decades, it’s tough to think of this year’s upcoming season without him. I know everyone here will miss his presence, his kindness and most of all his friendship.”
“He was a real nice man—a gentle giant really,” said Chuck Spina, a fellow New Jersey trainer and friend for more than 35 years. “It’s heartbreaking to lose a friend like that. He and I were together in this business for so many years. We both trained horses for our fathers and were just involved at every level. He’d head to Florida in the winter and give me some horses when I was first starting out at Garden State.
“I know one thing that’s for sure—you’ll never find someone say a negative thing about Bob Durso.”
Durso began his career in racing in 1956 ponying horses at Monmouth Park. Two years later he took out his trainer’s license. He saddled his first stakes winner, Kettle River, in 1971.
In 1997 Durso saddled 3-year-old Frisk Me Now to win Gulfstream Park’s Danka Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) at 105-1. That marked the first of many stakes victories for the colt by Mister Frisky—Slew Me Now, by Tsunami Slew, who also captured the Flamingo Stakes (gr. III), Ohio Derby (gr. II), Pennsylvania Derby (gr. III), Widener Handicap (gr. III), Suburban Handicap (gr. II) and Gulfstream Park Breeders’ Cup Sprint ChampionshipHandicap (gr. II) before capping his career with a win in the Philip H. Iselin Handicap (gr. II) at Monmouth Park on July 4, 1999. In 2000, Frisk Me Now was inducted into Monmouth Park’s Hall of Champions.
Frisk Me Now won 12 of 36 starts and earned $1,727,707 before starting a stallion career at Old Frankfort Stud near Lexington. He currently stands at Flying H Thoroughbreds in Illinois.
“We’d been friends since I came to New Jersey in 1988,” said jockey Eddie King, the regular rider for Frisk Me Now. “Bob was a terrific person. Even if you rode a bad race, he didn’t hold it against you—you’d just move on. He was such a loyal person and a friend that I’m really going to miss.”
Some of the other stakes winners conditioned by Durso were Don’t Tell the Kids, winner of Monmouth's Sapling Stakes (gr. III) in 1999; Cigno d’Oro, Sweet Beast, and Frisky Spider, who was from the first crop of runners sired by Frisk Me Now.
Last season, Durso turned over the day-to-day operations of his stable to his longtime assistant Luis Carvajal.
Durso is survived by his wife, Carol; his brother, Charles; a son, Patrick Dender and three daughters: Lorelei (Mike) Graciani, Maryann Durso, and Andrea Dender and her husband, Wayne Galotto; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Graveside services will be this Saturday (Feb. 3) at 11 a.m. at Glenwood Cemetery in West Long Branch, N.J. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Bob’s name to the Racetrack Chaplaincy Programs at Monmouth Park (175 Oceanport Ave., Oceanport, NJ 07757) and Gulfstream Park (901 S. Federal Highway, Hallandale, FL 33009).