Tonight, The Meadowlands will be decked out in orange in support of Leukemia Awareness Month and the Dilloian Family.
by Debbie Little
When you watch the second race at The Meadowlands tonight (Sept. 16), there will be no need for color calibration on your TV or monitor. The horses really will be wearing orange equipment.
Orange is the color for September’s Leukemia Awareness Month and the second race is dedicated to “Support of Children’s Leukemia, Kensley Strong and the Dilloian Family.”
The idea for the race came from horsewoman Sarah Lauren Scott, when she found out that her good friend Doug Dilloian Jr. was dealing with a grave family misfortune.
“We’re oranging out the entire race,” said Scott. “SLS equine and Divine Equine have come together and have donated the buxtons and browbands for the horses. I have organized and prepared for the drivers to wear orange arm bands in support.
“I really thought that it would be special for Doug and his family, they’re such a loved family within this business, I thought it was important for them to see that we’re with them. It’s going to be beautiful and it’s going to be very emotional.”
Dilloian’s daughter, Kensley, who will turn 2 in December, was diagnosed last month with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
Leukemia is the most common cancer in children and ALL is its most common form, usually found in children between 2 and 4 years of age.
Dilloian spent Hambletonian Day at The Meadowlands with his long-time owners, Scott and her husband, Howard Perlmutter. That night at home, his daughter did a cartwheel and hit her arm, which resulted in a small fracture.
When Kensley had spiked a temperature for a couple of days, their pediatrician wanted to do bloodwork and they found her hemoglobin level was low and were told to get her to the emergency room.
“They did some further tests and that’s kind of when the bomb was dropped on us and she was diagnosed with Leukemia,” said Dilloian. “ALL is in the high 90 per cent to 98 per cent curable in her age group. To me that’s a minor win in a really bad situation. The treatment is going to be 2 ½ years in total. After the 2 ½ years, as long as the bloodwork is good, they consider you cured. After the five-year mark, if it hasn’t come back, the chances of it coming back are very unlikely.
“They say you have to get through the first two months, those are the hardest months. It’s literally one of the most helpless feelings that I’ve ever felt in my life because I can’t take her pain away. I can’t take her treatments away. I can’t do anything aside from be there.”
Dilloian shared news of his family’s situation on Facebook because he knew that people would notice a change in his typical routine, but he was not expecting the response he received.
“I’m really good friends with Shane Tritton,” said Dilloian. “He instantly called me and said ‘Doug, send me all your horses at no cost whatsoever. Go be with your daughter and then when you’re ready come, pick them up.’ Dylan Davis is another one and the Bongiornos.
“Even people that I’m not crazy, crazy close with offered an outpouring of support saying, ‘If you need your horses shipped or raced or trained or jogged, we don’t want any money, go be with your daughter and we’ll take care of it.’ In a really s – – – -y situation, it kind of restores your value in people and in humanity.”
So far, Dilloian has not asked for help. His days and nights are plenty full between coaching his 12-year-old stepson Lucas’ football team, running a stable, racing at Yonkers three or four nights a week and, of course, being at home as much as he can for Kensley and his wife, Jessica, who is pregnant and due in November.
“I’ve kind of taken everything on and done it myself, but just knowing that you have people behind you, that when push comes to shove, are there for you is pretty remarkable in an industry where we’re all trying to beat each other to make a living,” said Dilloian.
A Leukemia Awareness race will also be held at Yonkers on Monday, Sept. 19.
“I can’t thank The Meadowlands and Alex Dadoyan from Yonkers enough for stepping up and working with me,” said Scott. “There was no hesitation at all, no pushback. It was what can we do and let’s get this done. I cannot wait for Friday [at The Meadowlands] and next Monday at Yonkers because the support’s been great from both marketing teams.”
When the idea first came to Scott last week, she reached out to The Meadowlands’ Jessica Otten, who she thinks is incredible and so amazingly helpful.
“I’ve done things with a shorter amount of notice than this, we can do it,” said Otten. “I actually had a cousin pass away from Leukemia. He was only 20.”
In addition to all the equipment from Scott, Otten has arranged for a blanket and a sign in the winner’s circle and a bouquet of flowers.
“I really wanted Doug to know that the industry is right with
him every step of the way,” said Scott. “You can be super competitive and racing hard against someone in the business and they’ll be claiming horses off of you but when it comes time when you need support this industry stands together like no other.
“My hope for the community and racing participants and racing spectators, I want them to see the goodness of the horse people. I want them to see that we are part of a community and I want them to know that we stand together and we also give back.”
Since Kensley is still receiving chemo treatments every Friday, it is unlikely she would be able to attend, but Dilloian has every intention of being there to represent his family.
“I’ve been in this business since I was 16-years-old, I’m 38 now and I know how ugly and cutthroat it can get,” said Dilloian. “Honestly, I couldn’t be more proud to be part of an industry. This is my life. I had a full scholarship to Penn State as a football player, got hurt and this is the only other thing I ever wanted to do my whole life.
“Like I told my wife, don’t worry about what’s going to happen two weeks from now or five days from now, just win each day and if you lose one day, it’s okay, come back and win the
next day. If you stack up enough wins, we’re going to beat this thing. I feel in my heart that we have a big, big support system behind us and everybody is rooting for my little girl and we’re going to beat it. We’re going to beat it as an industry and we’re going to beat it as a family. I consider the racing industry as a family.”