by Victoria M. Howard
Born in Brooklyn, NY, Linda Toscano and her brother and sister often accompanied their father to the horse races. Although her family was not involved in the business at that time, it wouldn’t be long before Linda would change that.
“My father loved sports — especially the horse races. He favored the thoroughbreds, but often went to Roosevelt Raceway, as well.
“When we moved to Long Island I was devastated. I missed the city and was miserable, so my mother suggested I take riding lessons. I immediately fell in love with horses and at that time had thoughts of becoming a veterinarian.
“I took riding lessons on Long Island and became friends with a girl who kept her horse at the stable there. She suggested I get a job where she worked — Roosevelt Raceway — for trainer Buddy Regan.
“I went and met Mr. Regan and was hired. I worked for Buddy several years and learned quite a lot. After leaving Buddy, I went to work for two of harness racing’s greats: John Campbell and Buddy Gilmour.”
Unknown to Linda at the time, working with the horses would launch a successful lifelong career.In fact, decades later, Toscano has rightfully earned her stature among harness racing’s top trainers, compiling over 2,100 career wins, and banking more than $52 million in earnings.
And that’s just for openers for Toscano and her four-legged kids have conquered The Hambletonian, The Meadowlands Pace, seven Breeders Crown wins, The Canadian Trotting Classic, The Maple Leaf Trot, Peaceful Way, Nat Ray, Progress Pace, Monument Circle, TVG Trot, Zweig Memorial, American National, Titan Cup, Art Rooney, The Golden Girls, and many other stakes races.
Adding to these incredible accomplishments is that Toscano is the only woman trainer/driver who has been inducted into harness racing’s Hall of Fame.
Ironically, this prestigious and remarkable feat didn’t go to Toscano’s head. Quite the contrary, for Toscano is a humble and grateful woman who questioned whether she deserved such an honor.
“Working under some of harness racing’s best: Regan, Campbell and Gilmour, I was fortunate to learn so much from these incredible, talented men.
“I decided to go out on my own and gradually built my stable. In 1995, I picked up my first divisional champion with the trotting mare GIANT MERMAID. 4,1:54.4. ($365,039). That was also the year I trained a 2-year-old named JET LAAG, p, 6, 1:49h ($1,001,746) who would go on to set a world record at the Delaware Fairgrounds at the age of six. JET LAAG won 44 of his 140 starts and also placed 43 times, earning over $1 million in purses.”
Other top horses in Toscano’s stable have included 2002 MOLLY CAN DO IT, multiple stakes-winner KENNETH J, and Jugette heat-winner SPRIG HANOVER.
The year 2012 was very special for Toscano and her partner/husband Brad McNinch, for they had not one, not two, but three Dan Patch winners. They were:
Three-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year MARKET SHARE 5,1:50.2f ($3,792,101), Three-Year-Old Pacing Colt of the Year HESTON BLUE CHIP p 3,1:48f ($1,781,881) and Horse of the Year CHAPTER SEVEN 4,1:50.1 ($1,954,966).
That year Linda was voted 2012 Trainer of the Year.
Today Linda and Brad train a stable between 35 and 50 head at Magical Acres in Chesterfield, NJ.
“The owners of the training center – John and Tom Cancelliere have a great facility. They keep the track in great shape and run a top-shelf operation.
“We race mainly at the Meadowlands, but also at Yonkers and Chester. Once the young ones get started, I follow the circuit if I’m lucky enough to have stock that can compete at that level.
The Meadowlands Racetrack is our home and it’s always great to win there, but I also like racing the New York Sires Stakes, and of course The Red Mile, for it’s so exciting there.”
I asked Linda if she prefers training trotters or pacers and what she looks for in a horse.
“I like both pacers and trotters, but trotters are more challenging.
“As far as what I look for, I’d have to say my first impression goes a long way. I like a nice head with a sharp eye and have a tendency to gravitate towards a medium sized horse, for that’s what has worked best for me.”
Toscano’s horses are her children and throughout the years she has had many favorites.
“As a caretaker, it would be a horse named TO RI JOHNNY, hands down. The Campbell family owned him, and I rehabbed him after he was in involved in an accident. We developed a strong bond and I loved him.
“As a trainer I have had many, but JET LAAG always rises to the top.
“As far as my best — that’s hard to say for WALNER was the fastest, CHAPTER SEVEN was the toughest, and MARKET SHARE was such an over achiever.
“I’d have to say the ‘perfect horses’ to train would be HESTON BLUE CHIP and KENNETH J.”
The sport of harness racing is highly competitive and it’s difficult to stay on top, but Toscano credits her continued success to several things.
“I have been blessed to have loyal owners who trust and have stuck with me, even during lean years. Ultimately, though, you need to produce. Good horses beget good horses, and it comes back to the team.
“I couldn’t accomplish near what we have without my husband Brad, my drivers, second trainers, and the group of caretakers that look after these horses. They are my ‘eyes and ears’ when I’m not in the stall.
But I give the most credit to the horses.
“Seriously, it takes a village. I had great mentoring from top horsemen and have a great team of trainers and caretakers who live with the horses and keep them healthy, happy and sound. They ALL deserve the credit. I just steer the ship.”