A Lemon By Any Other Name: by Michael Valiante

January 29, 2019

By Michael Valiante

“I was bred to be a horseplayer!”

That one sentence summarizes why I think I can contribute to “Past the Wire” from the perspective of the everyday fan. Let me share with you the circumstances of my life that have brought me to where I am today as a horseplayer.

My paternal grandfather immigrated to the United States from Sicily in the early 1900’s. He came here with two valuable things. His skills as a barber and the overwhelming desire to be accepted in his new homeland. He changed his surname to “Lemon” because he thought it sounded like an American name. He also developed a love of one of the major national sports of the time, horse racing. When you met Nick “Lemon” it was quite evident from his heavy accent that he was from Italy. Although the name wasn’t genuine, the love for his new home and racing was sincere. The rumor was that you could place a bet on a horse in the back of Nick’s shop.  Soon he gained a toehold in the new world and started a family.

His third son, my father, Albert, was born in the mid 1920’s. Like my grandfather, my dad also developed a love of racing. I can remember growing up, and hearing the voice of Fred Capossela on TV or radio most every Saturday. My father and mother had a large family. I was the last of six children and circumstances dictated that my father remain a $2 bettor. Once or twice each year, he and my mother would travel to Delaware Park in person and dole out their $36 bankroll over nine races. As a child, I loved looking at the colorful program that they would bring home with them.  I remember the time my father hit a big double and we celebrated with a luxurious family dinner at a local smorgasbord. My very first bet was on the 1966 Kentucky Derby. I used $1 of my First Communion money and split a win bet with my brother. We lost.

My parents sacrificed many things for their children and I was able to go to college and have a successful business career in finance and marketing. From the time that I started betting until the present, I was able to afford to bet more than my father would have ever imagined. Over that 50 year time span I have witnessed a lot of history and new facets in the game. My business experience also makes me sensitive to the challenges that racing faces.

I’m very grateful that Nick and Jon have offered me a chance to contribute to “Past the Wire”. In future articles I hope to accomplish a few things. First, I want to shine a spotlight on the most courageous athletes in the world, jockeys, as well as the families, owners, and trainers that support them.  Second, I want to give my opinions on what the sport needs to accomplish in order to add new bettors and owners. My co-workers tell me I am a bit of a curmudgeon. To be honest I admit they are correct, but I wear that badge proudly. I apologize in advance if I strike a nerve now and then but to be frank I feel the game needs a little nerve striking.  Lastly, I hope to be entertaining and provide a humorous perspective from time to time.

As Nick Lemon would say. “E partiamo”!  

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