Off to the races | June 21, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - June 21, 2013

Off to the races

Some horse trainers are products of the Pleasanton track

by Dennis Miller

John Anderson, 50, can remember plenty about the good old days at the Alameda County Fair when he was a young boy growing up in Pleasanton.

"I remember going to the Fair with $2 and it would last all day," said Anderson, one of the year-round horse trainers at the Pleasanton track. "I also remember having two bucks in my hand when I was in fourth grade trying to find someone to make a bet for me."

Anderson is one of the trainers that keep their stable of horses at the Pleasanton training facility. He is also one who grew up around the track, and his family was involved in the horse business.

Other Pleasanton trainers, like Jeff Bonde, Dan Morgan and Kent Molinaro, also spent time in their childhood around the track and, as is the case each year, the trainers raised in Pleasanton are in the spotlight while the Alameda County Fair is in town. The Fair is open through July 7, and the 12-day horse racing meet runs Thursday through Sunday during each of the three weeks of the Fair.

Anderson's Pleasanton racing ties go way back. His parents were both trainers, and initially, Anderson went away from training, opting instead to try becoming a jockey.

"I left Foothill (High) when I was 16 and tried being a jockey at Golden Gate Fields, but I was always fighting weight issues and it didn't work out," said Anderson. "In 1979, I went to work with my mom."

He's been at it ever since, and now Anderson is ready for another Alameda County Fair on his home track -- and the pressures that come with it.

"You always want to win when you're at home," said Anderson. "I am glad to see it come, but I am glad to see it go as well."

Dan Morgan was also around the track growing up, as his father Hugh was a starter at the track, in charge of the starting gate crew. Growing up locally was all about the horse racing industry, he recalls.

"My dad was the starter and both my grandfathers were trainers," explained Morgan. "I started working as a groom for Jack Phillips and eventually started getting horses of my own."

After buying some colts in 1980, Morgan dove in head-first and has been going strong ever since. After spending his early years training in Northern California, Morgan relocated to Arizona and Turf Paradise years ago where he still resides a majority of the year.

Morgan used to come back frequently during the Fair circuit, but for the last few years he has gone to Del Mar in the San Diego area. But this year he is back, and the old Pleasanton crew is happy.

"It's kind of neat that he's back," said Molinaro, another trainer. "We haven't seen much of him the last couple of years. When Danny comes home, his whole family is out there. It's kind of like the prodigal son has returned."

Morgan's 19-year-old daughter Danielle is working this summer for Jim Burns at the track and his wife Sue, a teacher in Arizona, spends time working as a pari-mutuel clerk at the Fair.

"It's always great to come home for the summer," said Morgan. "It is always fun having people come up and ask you want you think. Even when you tell them you don't have a shot, they are going to bet on your horse anyway."

Morgan also enjoys crossing paths with people he grew up with in Pleasanton.

"I saw Dean (Shotwell) the other day," said Morgan of a former high school classmate with whom he once owned a horse. "And it was great to see the local legend Mike Chandler at the barns the other day."

Molinaro, 49, didn't have family that worked around the track, but rather he had a father, Bob, who bought horses and a home that had plenty of land and plenty of horses.

"My dad bought a horse with Chris Beratlis (another old-school Pleasanton personality) in 1972 or '73," said Molinaro of his introduction to the sport. "I liked the handicapping aspect of racing and I loved being around the animals."

As he got older and showed a solid aptitude for the horses, Bob helped him get a job with J.W. Robinson, who trained Bob's horses. Working as a groom, Kent soaked up as much as he could, and in 1986, he became a trainer at the age of 23.

Molinaro worked out of Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields for years before coming home to Pleasanton about seven or eight years ago.

"What's funny is the first 10 years (as a trainer) I never had any luck in Pleasanton," said Molinaro, who is married with two boys. "But the last 15 years, it's always seemed like I've done well."

That is vital for a person raised in this town.

"If you are pointing for something -- and we are when Pleasanton rolls around -- if you are stabled here, you should have a little advantage," said Molinaro.

Like Anderson, Molinaro echoes the sentiment that three weeks, at least for now, is a perfect duration for the meet.

"It's great that it is that length of time," said Molinaro.

At 58, Jeff Bonde is the elder statesman of the Pleasanton crew and has seen his share of big moments, saddling horses in the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders' Cup.

Bonde started training when he was 17 after having worked for Jerry Dutton, as well as looking up to trainers like Jerry Hollendorfer, long the king of the Northern California conditioners. Now Bonde often does battle with Hollendorfer's horses in graded stakes races, throughout not only California but across the country.

And while Bonde has been in major races around the world, Pleasanton still is a major meet for his team.

"The Fair has always been something that everyone looks forward to," said Bonde. "It's changed throughout the years, but it's always been a big meet when you are around so many people you grew up with. It's always a lot of fun."