Gary DiLeo: Man of the people

by Debbie Little

The Meadowlands’ long-time marketing and event host Gary DiLeo was referred to on national TV as “the hardest working man in horse racing,” and those who know him understand why.

That compliment was paid to DiLeo by New York Racing Association (NYRA) TV personality Anthony Stabile on the April 30 broadcast of “America’s Day at the Races” when The Big M shared the nighttime spotlight with Churchill Downs on Fox Sports 2.

Stabile has known DiLeo for about a dozen years and used him as a sounding board to make sure he was up to date on the latest happenings in harness racing before show time.

“Harness racing has always been a passion of mine but with my duties now I don’t get to pay as much attention, but I do still keep an eye on things,” said Stabile. “But after a 10-minute conversation with Gary, you’re all caught up. It’s almost like watching a soap opera. You can miss 10 months of a show and in three episodes, you’re all caught up. That’s what talking to Gary is like.

“And you know how much he does over there and he’s always nice enough and kind enough to take time out of his day. And when he helps you, he kind of makes you feel like you’re the only person he’s helping and you know that’s not the case.”

DiLeo, a Linden, NJ native, started going to the old Meadowlands Racetrack as a teenager with his older brother, Joe.

But it wasn’t until the late 1980s when the track would also become his workplace.

“There was a job seminar at The Meadowlands Racetrack, and I went to it and that’s kind of how I got my foot in the door,” said DiLeo. “I remember Dave Brower went to it as well, but I didn’t know him then. He got hired on TV and I got hired to do handicapping seminars on Saturday nights.”

DiLeo would go on to have a tip sheet, called “Harness Insider,” that he sold at the track.

“I sold mine for $10 when everybody was selling for $2,” said DiLeo. “I went to $10 thinking people would think it was better.

“That didn’t work out,” he said with a laugh. “But then I went down to $5 and I was doing okay.”

Anyone who ever spent time in Paddock Park, a trackside hang by the paddock near the old building, should remember “Winners at the Wedge.”

The highly popular Big M bash that took place at the Kahuna Wedge was DiLeo’s idea and next to “Talk to the Stars,” was one of the most crowd-pleasing promotions at the track.

“I hosted a party there every Friday night and we had group Pick-4s that hit for $17,000,” said DiLeo. “We had a lot of fun. I’d get drivers and trainers to come and talk. We’d give away prizes and always had live music.”

Although DiLeo says he doesn’t have a favorite driver, he does have a favorite trainer and best memory from his time in harness racing.

“I love Brett Pelling,” said DiLeo. “I think Brett Pelling is the greatest trainer that ever sat behind a horse.

“In the late 90s, [owner] Sandy Goldfarb took me all around the country to watch Shady Character race. My biggest thrill in racing was going to the Little Brown Jug with Sandy and I was in the winner’s circle and I was like a Beatle throwing roses at the people.”

DiLeo has been on staff at The Meadowlands for over a decade now, and in addition to his winner’s circle duties, he does paddock tours, seminars for parties in Pink, and can regularly be seen walking through the building interacting with the fans.

“Gary is a fantastic team player,” said Rachel Ryan, Meadowlands’ director of marketing and event operations. “We rely on him tremendously – he helps us with events, race presentations, customer service and more. He is available at any time and is willing to step in and help get the job done. He is not just a colleague; he is a friend.”

The Big M has always made customer service its top priority and DiLeo is on the front lines making that happen.

On a nightly basis, no one on staff at The Big M interacts with the fans more than DiLeo, who could be considered to be the face of the building.

“I want to give a shout out to all the drivers,” said DiLeo. “They help me out a lot. If I tell them that it’s someone’s birthday, they’re terrific with the fans. They just won the race, so they’re happy to begin with, so they just continue the happiness.

“I love my job. I love going to work. Rachel, Jason [Settlemoir] and Marianne [Rotella] let me go and do what I’ve got to do. I love talking to people. Everybody knows me, so it’s a lot of fun. Most fans have never been in the winner’s circle or had their picture taken with a horse. It’s a big, big thing for the fans. So, I pick different fans during the races to get their picture taken and they love it. I’m there for the fans.”