Throughout his career as a thoroughbred trainer, La Plata resident Damon Dilodovico has always felt far more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it.
Dilodivico, who grew up in Fort Washington and graduated from Friendly High School in 1983, has been working for International Sound at race tracks in Maryland since 1999. But his path to success as a thoroughbred trainer began roughly a decade earlier when he started as a hot walker for trainer Dale Capuano.
“After I graduated from high school, I went into the service and came back looking for something to do,” Dilodivico said. “Me and a friend, Mike Geralis, went to Bowie [Race Course] one day to watch races and thought we could do this. We started walking hots for Dale and then a couple of years later I started training horses on my own.”
Like many trainers in the sport, Dilodovico started off small and worked his way up. He recorded his first winner with a horse named Dynastical and now he is 12 shy of 750 victories as a trainer. He finished second in the recent Laurel fall meet trainers’ standings, marking the first time that he has cracked the top five. He also recorded his first graded stakes victory with Laki, coincidentally the beaten favorite in his two subsequent starts, when he captured the Grade III Frank DeFrancis Memorial Dash.
“When we were getting ready to saddle both horses, Laki was a little bothered by the horse in the stall next to him,” said Dilodovico, who saddled 28 winners from 169 starters in 2020. “He’s usually very calm, but the horse next to us [Charles Town shipper Penguin Power] was really keyed up and anxious and I think that unsettled Laki. He’s usually nice and calm — maybe that affected him during the race.”
While Laki failed to deliver as the 4-5 choice in the $100,000 Dave’s Friend Stakes on Dec. 26 at Laurel, another Dilodovico trainee, Taco Supream, finished a solid second in that same event. Just over one year earlier, Taco Supream had forged a mild upset in the $100,000 Maryland Million Sprint. Both horses could be pointed to the Grade III, $250,000 General George Stakes at Laurel on Feb. 13, although both would have to run without the anti-bleeding medication, Lasix, under the new rules imposed by the Maryland Jockey Club.
“I think they could both be pointed for that race,” said Dilodovico, who lives in La Plata with his wife, Christine, and their sons, Andrew, Damon and Nicholas. “I’m a little concerned about not being able to run with Lasix. Laki is eight [years old] now, so I think that would be unfair to him to run without it. Taco Supream could be alright. But, I don’t know, it might be hard on both of them.”
Although he may not have provided him with his first win, first stakes win or first graded stakes triumph, Immortal Eyes has definitely been the most successful horse for Dilodovico. While the bulk of his success came in the 4½-furlong races at Charles Town in West Virginia — he still holds the track record of 50.09 for that distance there — Immortal Eyes won the DeFrancis Dash at Laurel under jockey Travis Dunkelberger when it was not graded.
“Immortal Eyes was just one of those horses that when we entered him, we knew he was going to win,” Dilodovico said of Immortal Eyes, who won 19 of 59 starts and earned nearly $1.2 million. “Fittingly, there is a stakes race named for him at Charles Town. He always seemed to run well, whether it was at Laurel or Monmouth or Charles Town. He ran a giant race in the DeFrancis Dash. I don’t think Travis ever really asked him that day.”