More than 90 people attended alumni Gino Buccola’s 24th birthday yesterday at the luxurious Frontrunner lounge at Santa Anita Park and helped raise just under $1,300 to combat the young horse-owner’s exorbitant medical bills over his recent battle with Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer that grew from a tumor on his neck last October when he was not covered by health insurance. Although his bills range in the 100’s of 1,000’s of dollars, after five chemotherapy sessions his doctors at City of Hope in Duarte are optimistic about his recovery.
Indeed, his appearance, attitude, and energy had remarkably improved from just a month ago, when for him was organized by Jennifer Luna, a former La Salle classmate. That benefit for Buccola’s bills. Krissie Carl, the main organizer of Buccola’s birthday benefit, was very pleased with the turnout.
“It didn’t rain like expected and we had a show of about 90 people, which is a lot more than we were thinking towards the end,” said Carl. “I really want to thank Chris Quinn, the Director of Sales at Santa Anita Park. Because of him we didn’t have to pay for anything. That room is normally $1,300 to rent, and to have a race named after you is normally $500.” The 5th race was named after Buccola. After the race he and his entire party, including this reporter, got to enter the Winner’s Circle for an official photograph. “Chris Quinn went way beyond the call of duty,” added Carl.
Buccola was having a blast at his so-called “Golden 24/24 Birthday Benefit Bash,” and spoke to Patch about his optimistic progress and plans for the future.
“I’m feeling really good, man,” he said. “I’m really happy everyone came out, I’ve been going back to work more and putting some weight back on, so everything’s going well.”
His friend and colleague, Jerry Guerrero, at TVG Network, said every day that Buccola has more energy at work and with his friends.
“He’s all energy,” said Guerrero. “That’s how he was before and it’s coming back more and more all the time. Immediately after the chemo, he didn’t have it as much, of course, but now you see him and he’s returning to how we used to know him beforehand, before everything went down.”
Guerrero also said that Buccola is becoming a lot more active with TVG Network, where he started as an intern, became a production assistant, and is now appearing on the air.
“He belongs on the air,” said Guerrero. “He’s now going into becoming an on-air talent, which is absolutely his position. He’s one of the best handicappers I have ever met. And everyone knows that, too. In the community, at work, people know him at the track, they say, ‘Oh, you’re Gino, the guy from TVG? What do you got on this race? Or what do you like?’ He has so much energy and everyone gravitates towards him. He’s a really good guy.”
One of the things Buccola wants to focus on is getting a younger crowd excited about horse racing.
“I’m in a good spot because I’m young but I’ve been around a long time and I know a good amount about the races and I’m trying to hit the younger crowd, too,” said Buccola. “I want to make everyone realize how fun the racetrack is. When I got the job at TVG, I told my friends that I was hoping to be the voice of horse racing for the next generation.”
TVG Network executives are talking about having him go around to some of the different locations around the world, such as Kentucky for a weekend and other tracks when they have big races. So could he be the youth voice of horse racing that revitalizes a declining industry? Guerrero certainly thinks so.
“I believe that’s the hope, to have Gino be someone who can bring some life back into the horse racing industry,” said Guerrero. “He’s someone younger who actually gets it, and the industry is trying to attract younger audiences.”
Buccola is also a co-owner (along with Mark Verge and Jack Sisterson) of a three-year-old Gelding out of Moscow Ballet horse who is named “Fight on Gino” and is scheduled to participate in its first ever race at Turf Paradise in Arizona on Monday. Buccola, Verge, Sisterson, and the rest of Team Gino, including racing manager Steve Rothblum and trainer Doug O’Neill, will be heading out there for that exciting milestone.
“We actually have a real team,” said Rothblum excitedly. “We all have our strengths, but we all like to play on each other’s weaknesses as well, which is really fun. But seriously, Fight on Gino is doing wonderfully and he will be racing on Monday.”
When asked if Buccola would be going to Arizona with the rest of the crew, Rothblum responded, “Oh yeah, baby. Gino’s our man. He’s a great guy and when we visited him in the hospital he was right there with us on being a co-owner of this horse.”
O’Neill spoke to why Fight on Gino is racing in Arizona as opposed to Santa Anita or another nearby racetrack.
“We sent Fight on Gino over (to Turf Paradise) just because he’s doing great, but he just seemed like he was a cut below the southern California circuit at this time,” he said. “This will be his first race. He’s never run before. TVG has a crew going out there to film his race, and the horse is much loved, mostly because of Gino. A lot of people haven’t even seen the horse. But yeah, it should be a great run and we’re all really excited.”