Tom and John Cancelliere have made a big splash in the harness racing business over the past five years buying up established racehorses with hefty price tags. The brothers' strategy has been sound, with prolific earners Bettor Sweet, Western Shore and Philos Hanover leading the way.
John, 51, is the stable's chief investor and he also manages the family's East Orange construction supply business. Tom, 50, handles the day-to-day racing operations and training duties.
Their stable stars Bettor Sweet and Western Shore face their first stakes test of the season in the $50,000 opening leg of the Presidential Series for free for all pacers on Saturday night at Meadowlands Racetrack. Bettor Sweet is rated at the 2-1 morning line favorite in the first of the two splits, race five, with John Campbell at the lines. He enters the Presidential off a solid second behind Vlos in the invitational last week.
Upon the urging of trainer Joe Poliseno, Bettor Sweet was a $175,000 private purchase by John Cancelliere on September 15, 2008. He immediately proved to be a smart buy. Bettor Sweet won the $390,000 Progess Pace at Dover and swept the Oil Burner Series at the Meadowlands in his first 10 starts for Canciellere and Poliseno.
The gelding had a smooth transition into the free for all ranks at age four, announcing his arrival with a 1:47.2 world record in the Graduate elimination on May 9, 2009. Though he missed the Graduate Final due to sickness, Bettor Sweet picked up a check in nearly every major stakes race that summer, topped by a victory in the $314,802 Classic Series Final and a pair of seconds in the $688,000 William R. Haughton Memorial and $630,200 Canadian Pacing Derby.
Joe Poliseno trained the gelding through his 3-year-old and 4-year-old seasons before Tom Cancelliere took over last year. Bettor Sweet made just 13 starts in 2010 but banked $325,668 for the season. His brightest moment was holding off Won The West to win the $156,000 American-National on Nov. 13, 2010 at Balmoral Park.
"He had some little health problems at the beginning of the season," Tom Cancelliere said. "We shut him down for a couple of months and we took our time bringing him back. The bottom line is, he is very sound and he just needed his time.
"We race horses because we absolutely love it, and we're never going to put a horse out on the track that's not 100 percent healthy," he continued. "Bettor Sweet is fine now and getting stronger every day. He's getting a little more racy. We're only going to go through the Presidential and then shut him down for five weeks. We'll have him back for all the Free For All events.
"He was unbelievable in the American-National when he held off Won The West," he added. "Once he gets on the front he likes to swell up a bit."
Western Shore is making his third appearance in the Presidential Series after finishing second in the 2009 final and third in 2010. He is rated as the 3-1 second choice in the second Presidential division, the tenth race on Saturday night. John Cancelliere purchased the 8-year-old son offor $212,000 at the Tattersalls Mixed Sale on January 19, 2009 at the Meadowlands. He went on to a solid season, banking more than $126,098 for his new owner, and built on that success in 2010. Western Shore ended the year with 10 wins and $213,000 in earnings. After a three-month respite, he tuned up for the Presidential Series with an easy 1:49.2 romp in a conditioned race on January 8 at the Meadowlands.
"Western Shore is our Magilla Gorilla," his trainer said. "As you saw last week, he loves the front end, and that's the way he likes to race. He wants it all his way. He'll race through this, and then get a couple of weeks off. He'll bounced back and forth in the Opens, and we'll pay him into a few major events this season."
Tom and John Cancelliere, who were born and raised in Belleville, NJ, Von Rohr Equipment, a supply business that sells, rents and repairs tools and equipment used for commercial construction. John serves as President and CEO of the business, allowing Tom to focus on the horses. Tom Cancelliere was immersed into the racing business 30 years ago when he married his wife, Susan. His late father-in-law, Armando Vocturo, had success as an owner and breeder of harness horses.
"I worked as a groom, then my brother and I went to work together [in the construction supply business]," Canceillere said. "Eventually, we came back to the horses. My brother had wanted to buy a horse forever. I really didn't want to do it, but he kept talking me into it.
"I took out my trainer's license two years ago," he continued. "I had a groom's license for years, and when I came back to the horses, I started with a couple of babies. Then, I wound up with the racehorses. Fortunately, my brother doesn't require me to do too much with the construction supply business. I don't really have to report for duty anymore, and when the horses are doing well, this is nicer.
The Cancellieres ventured back into racing with Philos Hanover, who will also race on Saturday night, in the evening's third. Philos Hanover was a private purchase from owner Jeff Snyder in 2006.
"Ross Croghan had him and recommended him," Cancelliere said. "We bought him with about $35,000 on his card and he's got $503,376 now. He fits nicely in that easier condition [non-winners of $10,000 in last five starts]. He was just 1 for 24 last year, but actually started to feel better recently and he's been cycling forward in his last few starts. That's why I'm bringing him back to the bigger track. He really takes to the five-eighths mile track [at Chester], but I can't be in two places at the same time."
Tom Cancelliere's stable is based on a farm at the back of Magical Acres, a training center in Chesterfield, NJ. He has 16 horses, half of which are currently in training, including Meant To Be Me and Major General. Along with his 3-year-olds now jogging back, Cancelliere is also bringing a two-year-old homebred named Passion Moon into training. She is byout of the mare Passionate Life, who is a full sister to .
The Cancelliere brothers' most recent high-profile acquisition is Showherthemoney, an eye-popping $700,000 at the November 2010 mixed sale in Harrisburg, PA. The bid was the highest price ever paid at auction for a pacing mare. The daughter ofbanked most of her $800,00 bankroll as a sophomore with wins in the Miss New Jersey, Shady Daisy, Nadia Lobell, Jugette, Bluegrass Series, Garnsey and Matron. The 5-year-old mare qualified in 1:53.4 Friday morning and is being pointed toward the Cape and Cutter and Overbid Series this winter.
"I was at Balmoral Park for the American National with Bettor Sweet and watching the sale on the computer," Cancelliere recalled. "I was starting to sweat through the bidding for Showherthemoney. When John wants a horse, he buys the horse. She's a top horse. I thought she'd go for around $300,000, but $700,000 is a great investment, especially with her residual value as a broodmare.
"I look at the program sometimes and see a lot of great trainers, and we're just happy to have horses that can compete at this level," he added. "Our experience in business has helped, but I'm really thankful to my brother. He's a great person, very involved, and the barn would be nothing without him. He'll spare no expense to do things right."
Bettor Sweet 2008 Dover PROGRESS 3YCP $390,000 1:50
Bettor Sweet, the 2008 edition of the Progress Pace, post race interview.