I first met Walter Medio in May of 1987 at Atlantic City Racecourse. The track had just opened for stabling and the barn area was a ghost town. After driving past row after row of empty barns, I was about to give up my job search when I stumbled upon a thirty horse stable in Barn R. I parked and went in search of the trainer. A groom pointed me in the direction of a gray-haired man in glasses pushing a wheelbarrow full of manure. That was the first thing I learned about Walter Medio, he was never afraid to get his hands dirty. As soon as Wally learned that I was in college, he hired me on the spot. I spent that summer grooming horses for Wally and winning a lot of races before heading back to finish my final year at Cook College. After I graduated in May 1988, Wally made me his Assistant Trainer and for the next twelve years, we raced horses together; it was the best time of my life.
A lifetime Vineland resident and former bar owner, Wally started out first as a racehorse owner in 1969 then became a trainer two years later. Although he raced all over the Mid-Atlantic region, Wally called Atlantic City Racecourse home. He finished in the top three of the trainers’ standings from 1987 until Atlantic City’s last full meet in 1997. In 1991, Wally won A.C.’s training title; he considered it to be his greatest achievement as a racehorse trainer.
A true measure of a trainer’s ability isn’t how well he can do with blue-blooded, push-button horses; it is what he can do with the so-called hopeless cases. At the Altar was such a horse. When the son of Buckaroo was sent to the Medio Stable, he hadn’t finished in the money in over two years, would bolt and refuse to gallop and wouldn’t eat. So Wally ponied him instead and fattened him up with his famous pasta fagioli, a mixture of oats, molasses, bran, garlic and carrots. In his first start for Wally, At the Altar finished second. He won his next start and would go on to win six more races while under Wally’s care.
But Wally was more than just a great horse trainer, he was also incredibly kind and generous. He loved to farm and grew all kinds of vegetables, which he then gave away to the grooms, hotwalkers and other backstretch workers. He loved to cook and was known for his famous peppers and eggs sandwiches, which he handed out freely to anyone who graced the Medio shedrow. Twice a year – once at Garden State and once at Atlantic City – he’d make these incredible meatball hoagies which he then passed out to the racing office staff, track announcer, jockey valets and pretty much anyone else he ran into. That was the downside of working for Walter Medio, he was a hazard to your waist line.
Wally’s favorite phrases were “You don’t make any money in the morning” and “Put ‘em in, he’ll win”. He didn’t see the need to keep working a horse when you could run it and earn a check instead. The Garden State and Atlantic City racing offices were forever begging him to help them fill races and he almost always obliged them. He wasn’t afraid to take chances, to run the sprinters long, the distance horses short and to try dirt runners on turf. Indeed, some of his biggest successes came when he switched former claimers like My Best Bet, Joint Venture and Lonaconey Smoke to turf.
Wally also trained other notable runners such as Car Thief, a solid allowance performer favored by race callers for his name (and it’s Car Thief stealing out on the lead…), Judge’s Air, a former claimer reborn as a starter allowance marathon specialist, and Luckey Lipco, a game claimer famous for her win streaks at A.C. She would go on to be the dam of Joey P., the New Jersey champion sprinter with over a million in earnings.
In the fall of 1988, Wally was given a bay yearling filly to break named Plain All Over. She had a refined head, long ballerina legs and a free spirit, tossing rider after rider. Right away we knew that she was special. Regal. I nicknamed her Queen. When it came time to race Queen the following June, none of the filly two year old races were filling. So Wally did the unthinkable – he took a two year old filly making her very first start and entered her against colts. Wally wasn’t known for winning with two year olds; prior to then his only two year old winner had been a filly named Plain Maiden. Unlike Queen, Plain Maiden was a monster, a seventeen hand raw-boned filly whose humongous strides simply overwhelmed her competition. Like Plain Maiden, Queen was also by Jimmy Plains but she was more precocious and finer-boned. And fast.
On June 21, 1989 Plain All Over exploded from the gate, showed the boys her heels and held on to win by a length. After a pair of seconds and a win in allowance company, Queen finished second in Atlantic City’s Mermaid Stakes. After a disappointing fourth in the Somerset County Stakes at Meadowlands, Queen was sent off at 21-1 for the Bloomfield College Stakes against the highly regarded Nannerl and Faradawn. Queen held on to win by a half-length, earning Wally his first stakes win. She would go on to win the Prom Stakes that November, finishing the year with four wins and two seconds in nine starts. The Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association of New Jersey voted Plain All Over as the Best Two Year Old Filly of New Jersey in 1989.
Wally remained Queen’s trainer throughout her entire career in which she scored another stakes win in the Shamrock at Garden State Park. Plain All Over was retired in 1993 with earnings of over $175,000. Her first foal was a bay colt by Shelter Half named OverProtected who was also trained by Wally. Unlike his dam, OverProtected was a throwback to the Jimmy Plains’ line, big, raw-boned and slow to develop. Wally was patient, only racing him once as a two year old. At the age of three OverProtected finally broke his maiden in the Stanley Panco Stakes at Atlantic City; it was the last stakes race ever run at the Jersey Shore track.
After several bouts of cancer, Walter Medio, the King of A.C. finally retired in 2000. His final win came fittingly in an allowance race at Atlantic City. The horse was Gracious Megan, the daughter of his former trainee, Luckey Lipco. Not that retirement slowed him down. He still got up at the crack of dawn every day, played farmer with his veggie garden, fried up his peppers and eggs sandwiches and attended races whenever he could. Walter Medio passed away on April 8, 2006 and his funeral was a who’s who of horse racing; everyone from backstretch workers to jockeys to racing office workers to stewards attended. Wally was more than the King of A.C., he was one of a kind.