Trainer Joe Aquilino, a mainstay of the New York circuit for more than three decades, died April 9 following a lengthy battle with congestive heart failure. He was 76.
Visitation will be held Friday, April 11 from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m. ET at Frederick Funeral Home, 192-15 Northern Blvd., Flushing, N.Y. A funeral service will be held on Saturday, April 12, 9:45 a.m. at St. Robert Bellarmine Roman Catholic Church, Bayside, N.Y.
Aquilino's biggest win came in 1999 when Badge won the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack. Two starts later, Badge was third in the Preakness (gr. I) at 58-1 after threading through traffic in the stretch. The trainer also won the 1992 Rare Treat Handicap (gr. II) with Haunting and the 2002 Miss Preakness (gr. III) with Vesta.
The native of New York City worked approximately 20 years as a firefighter, serving in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and later in Flushing, Queens.
After falling down a flight of stairs and suffering ligament and cartilage damage to a knee during a call, Aquilino decided to change careers, pulling double duty as a firefighter and as a hotwalker for trainer Frank LaBoccetta before taking out his trainer's license in 1977.
"I was always a fan of racing," Aquilino said in 1995. "I had started to hang around, and I got a job as a hotwalker with Frank LaBoccetta. I would work as a swingman, filling in for grooms, and I would go in early in the morning, then go to the firehouse and work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for two straight days and have three days off. When I wasn't at the firehouse, I was at the track. I worked for Frank for six years, then I got my trainer's license."
Aquilino won his first race in 1977 at Atlantic City Race Course with Amberdias. In 1982, Aquilino won his first stakes, the Charles Hatton at Belmont Park, with One Never Nose, a $12,500 claim. Other stakes winners trained by Aquilino include Dr. J, Liveitupnow, No Parole, Pirate Performer, Sabellina, and Stormy Krissy.
He resided in Bayside, N.Y., and is survived by his wife Victoria and adult children Joanne, Theresa, Laura, and Nicholas, who is a creative services supervisor for NYRA. Aquilino's final starter was Charming Eyes, who finished fourth in an allowance/optional claiming race at Aqueduct April 9. He had four winners from 12 starters in 2014.
According to Equibase, he won with 477 of his 5,576 starters and amassed total purse earnings of $15,242,614.