Linda Toscano and Scott Zeron are a winning combination

by Debbie Little

In 2023, the combination of trainer Linda Toscano and driver Scott Zeron led to trophies both on and off the track.

The U.S. Harness Writers Association honored Toscano and Zeron with the 2023 W.R. Haughton Good Guy Award and Driver of the Year, respectively.

The Good Guy Award holds special significance for Toscano because of who it’s named for.

“To get an award that even is associated with the ultimate good guy, as far as I’m concerned, is humbling and it’s really nice,” Toscano said. “I was thinking of an instance that happened to me when I was a caretaker and it kind of just epitomizes what kind of a good guy he was.

“I was taking care of a horse by the name of Bunnyful for Buddy Regan and coming to The Meadowlands, which was new at the time. My horse was probably 50 or more to one in a Jersey Sire Stakes race and Billy had Mckinzie Almahurst in the race.”

Longshot Bunnyful went a big mile and finished second, but it’s what happened after the race that meant so much to Toscano.

“As a caretaker, I was in the test barn giving my horse a bath,” she said. “And Haughton came in to check on his horse who had won the race and came over and said to me, ‘Linda, your horse raced great tonight. You gave me a run for my money and you made me worry for a second.’ Well, that to me was like winning the race. The fact that not only did he take the time to come over and speak to me but he knew my name, you know, I was a lowly caretaker at the time.

“Now, I’m sure he probably had to ask somebody as he walked in ‘What’s the girl’s name that takes care of that colt?’ But the fact that he did it, gives you an idea of what kind of a guy he was. Everybody just hopes to be able to have his personality. He had quite a personality and he had quite a work ethic.”

Toscano also couldn’t be happier to see Zeron being honored.

“He deserves it,” she said. “He quietly goes out there every single year and they call him ‘The Money Man’ for a reason. He is completely nonplussed by the amount of money and dollar signs as far as the purses are concerned. He gives every horse the best chance they could possibly have and he has the ability to step up and put them in the right place on the nights of the big races.”

Between Canada and the U.S., Zeron had previously finished second in Driver of the Year voting on four occasions: three times in the O’Briens and once for the Dan Patch. Unlike the Dan Patch awards, which announce winners in both human and equine divisions except for Pacer, Trotter and Horse of the Year, which are announced live at the banquet, the O’Briens have two finalists in each category and the winner is announced live at their banquet.

“In Canada, I was nominated three times, and in Canada if you’ve been nominated you go to the awards,” Zeron said. “I went three times, twice knowing full well I had no chance of winning, but it was an honor to be nominated. Then the third time I thought I couldn’t lose it and I did.”

Zeron is currently first call for Toscano, which is very important to her.

“I find that my horses like the same set of hands, and I like them to have the same set of hands,” she said. “I’m not the person that sends them down the road every single week. I like to race them into shape and Scott understands that about me. And we’ll have a conversation as to how I want the horse raced and whether he’s ready to go down the road and sometimes if we’ve been racing him one way, this is the time to change it up and go in a different direction and we do that very well together.”

It was easy for Zeron to explain why he likes driving for Toscano.

“I think it’s the same reason she has a Good Guy Award,” Zeron said. “Linda is a very likable, charismatic, calm, happy-go-lucky person. And when she brings that energy to the racetrack with her, it rubs off on me. She doesn’t put any pressure that she may get on her end, on me. It feels a lot more like a friendship than it does a work relationship and we both want the same outcome.

“I’m not a short-sighted person and she’s not one that trains 150 horses. So, the ones that she has that she likes, we need to make sure they do well throughout their whole career.”

Obviously, Toscano is not the only trainer that contributed to Zeron’s award-winning season just as he’s not the only driver that she employed in 2023, however, their combination over the last several years has been special and rewarding for both.

Stand-out moments for their trainer-driver combo in 2023 had to be winning the North America Cup with It’s My Show, as well as winning the Little Brown Jug (It’s My Show) and Jugette (Ucandoit Blue Chip) on back-to-back days. Although Zeron had won both the Jug and NA Cup before, it was his first Jugette win and it was Toscano’s inaugural victory in all three.

When asked how she would best describe Zeron as a driver, Toscano said: “Accommodating, cool under pressure and incredibly talented.

“I’m very grateful to have Scott in my corner and very grateful for everything he’s done for me [in 2023], and years prior, too. When the money is on the line, the horse is still there for him because he hasn’t abused them.”

Zeron was equally complimentary when he described why he likes working with Toscano.

“She’s a dream to drive for because she trusts your decision making out there,” Zeron said. “Without trust, you’re just driving for what you think they want versus the way you want to drive that horse or the way that horse feels on that given day. Trust is such a big thing between a trainer and a driver.

“And then the belief that she believes every time I sit behind one of her horses that I am the best option for that given horse or I’m the best driver for her… When you can go behind the gate with absolute trust and confidence in the trainer, it translates every time. Linda gives me the trust and the belief that we are the perfect team.”