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From Saddle to Scales, Luciani Still In His Happy Place

May 8, 2024

The wardrobe has changed, but horse racing is still a perfect fit for Dino Luciani.

He has traded in jockey silks for suits, riding boots for dress shoes, and a saddle for a seat, but the former multiple graded stakes winning jockey still fashions an unabashed affinity for the Thoroughbred life.

Seated at his desk in the Woodbine jockeys’ room, Luciani, who recorded 659 wins and $22 million in purse earnings over a 15-year career, is very much at home in his Assistant Clerk of Scales role.

There was a time, however, when he would have scoffed at the very thought of a job anywhere other than in the irons.

That all changed in May 2022.

“I got a call asking if I would be interested in taking on the Assistant Clerk of Scales role at Woodbine,” recalled Luciani. “I didn’t take any time to accept. The job was perfect in so many ways. It was like coming home again.”

Dino Luciani (Will Wong Photo)
Dino Luciani (Will Wong Photo)

Luciani grew up in Rexdale, not far from Woodbine.

His early interest in the sport took the form of fan when he would sit in the grandstand and marvel at the seemingly endless sights and sounds.

Over time, Luciani started to think about what it would be like to be part of the action. ​

In 1993, it became a reality.

Luciani won 71 races in his rookie season, upping the number to 80 the following campaign.

Success as an apprentice didn’t follow, at least initially, when he made the jump to journeyman in 1995.

“I had two very good years as an apprentice,” recalled Luciani. “It’s always difficult to make that leap from apprentice to journeyman. You lose that weight allowance, and it becomes a level playing field.”

He posted 19, 12, 37 and 48 over the following four years.

Injuries wreaked havoc on his 1999 season and left Luciani questioning his riding future.

It was a combination of love for the sport, belief in himself and an admitted measure of stubbornness which kept him pressing forward.

After making 47 trips to the winner’s circle in 2000, a resolute Luciani won 79 races the following year.

“Looking back, you can see why it would be easy to say, ‘That’s it. This isn’t working.’ But I told myself that I would give it my best, that I would do anything within my control to keep going.”

Luciani averaged 64 wins from 2002-04.

In 2005, he posted 29 wins. One year later, he recorded 20 wins.

On October 17, 2007, he piloted Krz Exec to a 2 ¼-length victory in a main track race on a foggy evening at Woodbine.

It was the final race of his career.

“That was the right time – you just know.”

Luciani, who recorded 24 career stakes wins, rode several top talents over his 5,693 mounts.

Many of those successes – including his final win – came with trainer Mike De Paulo and his wife, assistant trainer Josie De Paulo.

“Mike and Josie have been a big part of my life and career. I got to ride Krz Ruckus, who was able to grind out a million in earnings the hard way. There was also Shillelagh Slew. He was Canada’s champion 3-year-old, who finished a tough fifth in the Queen’s Plate (now King’s Plate), but he won the Prince of Wales. He was just a phenomenal athlete. Prospective Dolly, who I rode for Tony Mattine, was also an outstanding horse.”

Luciani went from racetracks to rooftops soon after he retired.

Partnering with his brother, he started a successful roofing business.

After that venture ended, he worked at a car dealership.

Although Luciani had a knack for selling cars, it just wasn’t for him.

Then came that life-changing call two years ago.

“I can still remember that day as if it were yesterday. I felt like something was missing in my life and then this opportunity at Woodbine came my way.”

Luciani’s role includes supervising of riders, valets and officials before and during racing hours, breathalyzer analysis of all racing officials, including reporting any discrepancies to the Clerk of the Scales, recording changes for the daily race card, including scratches, overweights, owner or trainer changes, Lasix changes, and delivering that information to appropriate departments (Mutuels, Broadcast, Announcer, Equibase, Bookkeeper, etc.) in a timely manner.

Every race day, he has a bird’s-eye view of the riders as they make their way from the jockeys’ room to the paddock.

Those moments prompt Luciani to recall the days he took the very same path.

“I am in the room where I once rode, and I love it. I get to be around the action.”

And on top of it.

Luciani, who still works horses for De Paulo in the mornings, is thankful to have maintained his connection with the equine athletes.

“That feeling… it never gets old. The bond will always be there.”

Dino Luciani (Michael Burns photo)
Dino Luciani (Michael Burns photo)

Luciani often watches replays of his big wins, especially during the Woodbine racing season.

“I do all the time. I talk to other people, whoever it might be, about races in the past. It’s a good feeling.” ​

Others also remind him of those triumphs.

“I know this one rider – he gallops for Mark Casse and used to work for Roger Attfield – who has been around Woodbine for a long time. Every time he passes me, he says, ‘Shillelagh Slew!’ That’s all he says to me. It’s cool when people still recognize that.”

There is no trace of lament when Luciani reflects upon his riding years.

Instead, there is an unmistakable tone of gratitude to have a racing career, he acknowledged with a smile, which suits him perfectly.

“Horse racing, for me, is where it’s at. Going to the races, just being there – it’s exciting. It’s a dream.”

Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications / @WoodbineComms

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