BALTIMORE — Angelo Lorenzo had a love affair with horse racing. Belmont Park was near his home on the Franklin Square-Elmont border, and he would go whenever he could. Often he’d bring along his daughter MaryEllen, who loved her daddy time there.
Angelo, a blue-collar guy, would bet only two or four dollars on a race, because the overpowering lure wasn’t the money. It was the beauty, power and grace of the thoroughbred and the sport’s unique atmosphere.
“I was probably about 10 when he started taking me,” MaryEllen Bonomo told Newsday. “It wasn’t the best place for a 10-year-old girl, but those are treasured memories and I would never change them. He taught me how to do an exacta and a trifecta, but I didn’t look at it as being at the racetrack. I looked at it as spending time with my father.”
During August they would visit Saratoga, where he was a fixture at workouts. “He knew all the jockeys and trainers and he would talk to them,” his son-in-law Anthony Bonomo said. “Mornings at Saratoga are magical, even better than the races, and he enjoyed them so much.”
In 2006, a year after Bonomo’s first trip to Saratoga, he and MaryEllen bought two thoroughbreds and opened Brooklyn Boyz Stables. “Once my dad gets into things, he gets into things,” their daughter Jackie Avellino said.
Nine years later, Bonomo spent $350,000 for a yearling colt whom MaryEllen would name. On May 6, Always Dreaming dominated the Kentucky Derby, and if he wins the Preakness Saturday, he’ll go for the Triple Crown June 10 at MaryEllen’s home track.
Victory at Pimlico would fulfill the promise MaryEllen made on NBC-TV in the Derby winner’s circle. “So now I’m going to be dreaming about the Preakness,” she said, “and then I’m going to bring it to Elmont to win the Belmont.”
It would have been the thrill of a lifetime for Angelo to see his daughter on top of the world, but he died at 84 in September 2014. “It’s the only sad thing about this great ride,” MaryEllen said.
Her husband agrees. “He was a great guy, he always treated me like a son,” Anthony Bonomo said. “So I’m kind of melancholy, because I wish he could have seen this. It would have been very special.”
Although Angelo didn’t witness the crowning achievement of the passion he transmitted to MaryEllen, without him this story probably wouldn’t have happened. So indirectly, he was there, because it was MaryEllen who finally convinced Anthony to visit Saratoga. “She used to tell me, ‘It’s so beautiful up there, you’re going to love it,’ ’’ Bonomo said. He wasn’t so sure.
“I was not a real racehorse person,” he said. “I liked going to the track and betting a few bucks when I was growing up. I never thought about going to Saratoga then, and I never thought about buying a racehorse.”
Bonomo was a working-class kid from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. “We were living in Franklin Square in 2005, and for a boy from Brooklyn, that was the country,” he said in an accent that echoes the old neighborhood. “So for me, Saratoga was amazing. I’d never seen anything like it.
“A year later, we bought our first horses, and we liked Saratoga so much we bought a house there. It’s a beautiful place.”
That’s where Always Dreaming took the Bonomos and their partners on Derby Day. Now the colt his son, Anthony, 30, helped pick out is a win away from a Triple Crown run.
“Racing for us has always been a family affair,” said the father, who recently moved with MaryEllen from Manhasset to Woodbury to be closer to Jackie, 26, and her sister, Julie, 28. “When you can sit down with your family and spend time talking about something all of you love, it can’t get any better.”