M. Anthony Ferraro considers Tampa Bay Downs an ideal place to train horses each winter and early spring. “I think the horses do better staying in Tampa. I know I do,” Ferraro said. “When they leave, they’ll go anywhere and do well.”
Each year around Kentucky Derby time, Ferraro departs from Oldsmar for another racing mecca he knows better than most horsemen. Ferraro has already shipped the majority of his 47-horse stable back to his base at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack in Farmington, N.Y., where he has trained since 1985.
Ferraro departs with the final Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month Award for the 2021-2022 meet. He won five races here from 12 recent starts, climbing into a tie for 14th in the current standings with 11 victories.
“I had a couple of horses that had some issues, and we were able to overcome those,” Ferraro said. “The right races came up, the horses were training real good and things kind of started to click.”
Ferraro also credits his Tampa Bay Downs assistant, Karen Frates, and the rest of his crew for his ascent. “They’ve been spectacular, and are the main reason we’ve been having such success,” he said.
For Ferraro, winning races is a long-established habit. He has 2,141 career victories, most coming at the New York track where he shared a pair of training titles in the 1990s with his father, 83-year-old Michael S. Ferraro.
It’s safe to assume that anyone who decides to follow in the career path of a family member known as “The Godfather” has some big shoes to fill. But M. Anthony “Mike” Ferraro is happy to bask in the reflected glory of his father, who has been a Finger Lakes fixture since 1971 and is still going strong. The elder Ferraro has 3,367 career victories and won 18 training titles at Finger Lakes during one stretch.
“He was always my idol growing up,” said M. Anthony, who joined his father’s barn in 1982 as an assistant after a detached retina suffered while playing for Nassau Community College ended his hopes of playing major college football. “I didn’t like the early hours at first, but I got hooked that summer and never looked back.”
As it turned out, he couldn’t have chosen a better time to hook up with “The Godfather.” The previous summer, 1981, Michael S. sent 6-year-old Fio Rito to Saratoga to win the Whitney Handicap, becoming the first New York-bred to win a Grade I race (for good measure, Fio Rito won the Grade II Michigan Mile and One-Eighth Handicap in his next start).
A number of top Finger Lakes trainers have grown up under the elder Ferraro, including perennial leading conditioner Chris Englehart, Charlton Baker and James Acquilano.
Besides training Thoroughbreds, Michael S. Ferraro was a competitive body-builder, being crowned AAU Teen Mr. America in 1957, AAU Mr. Eastern America in 1961 and AAU Mr. USA in 1964 before retiring on his own terms and directing his full energy to the horses.
“To have the discipline it takes to train horses in the morning, then compete at that level of body-building, made a great impression,” said M. Anthony, who already was captivated by the thrill of big race days and the chance to pit his burgeoning handicapping skills against experts.
M. Anthony has trained some outstanding runners of his own. He trained New York-bred Impeachthepro to six stakes victories at Finger Lakes, Belmont and Monmouth Park from 2000-2002. Fox Rules won the 2012 New York Derby at Finger Lakes for Ferraro and captured three consecutive runnings of the Genesee Valley Breeders’ Stakes from 2014-2016.
Multiple-stakes winning filly Try N Sue, who finished third in the Grade III Florida Oaks in 1998 at Tampa Bay Downs, ran in that year’s Kentucky Oaks. Three years later, Shesastonecoldfox won three stakes in a row to earn a trip to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Belmont.
He says his best horse was Swamp King, with whom he won twice at Saratoga in 1993 before taking the Monroe County Breeders’ Cup Stakes at Finger Lakes.
M. Anthony – who also plans to also keep eight or so horses at Presque Isle Downs this summer – lives in Victor, N.Y., with wife Meredith, an occupational therapist, and their three teenage sons: Michael, Dylan and Tyler.
All three have helped around the barn in the past, and M. Anthony says Michael, a 19-year-old college student, is starting to warm up to the sport.
Time will tell if “The Godfather’s” legacy endures through another generation, but one suspects there is something in the combined air between Finger Lakes and Tampa Bay Downs.
Around the oval. Thoroughbred racing continues Saturday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. There are five racing days remaining in the 2021-2022 meet after today: Saturday; Wednesday; next Friday, May 6; Saturday, May 7, which is Kentucky Derby Day; and Thursday, June 30, which is the first day of the annual two-day Summer Festival of Racing.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.