Horse goes from potential throwaway to racehorse with $95K in winnings


Joe and Vivi Serena stand by as Aroldo Orantes on Balino heads out to exercise at Arboritanza's racing stable at Peninsula Farm north of Ocala on Aug. 9.

Alan Youngblood/Star-Banner
Published: Friday, August 16, 2013 at 8:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 16, 2013 at 8:31 p.m.

Almost four years ago, a woman responded to a classified ad that offered a pregnant horse for sale. The price: just $300.

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Joe and Vivi Serena stand by as Aroldo Orantes on Balino heads out to exercise at Arboritanza's racing stable at Peninsula Farm north of Ocala on Aug. 9.

Alan Youngblood/Star-Banner

The baby horse was named Balino. His legs are a little crooked. He’s on the smaller side for a racehorse. And his father is a stallion “you couldn’t find with a search party,” according to his trainer.

But none of it — the modest beginning, the physical limitations, the undistinguished pedigree — has hampered Balino.

The 3-year-old colt won a stakes race earlier this month at Calder Race Course in Miami Gardens and has earned $95,000 in purses since he started racing a year ago.

This journey from potential throwaway to stakes winner is credited by Marion County trainer Joe Arboritanza to a horse with a ton of heart and owners who gave him a chance.

Vivi Serena still remembers the day she first saw Love That Touch. The mare was pregnant with Balino, a son of Mr. Elway, who first stood stud in 2005 but has since fallen off the registry books.

“Her mane was matted; she hadn’t seen a farrier in quite a long time. She looked a mess,” said Serena, who had never owned a thoroughbred nor intended to own one.

She cleaned up the horse and gave it a place to live on the five acres she and her husband, Joe, own near Ocklawaha in Marion County.

“I chose her because she came right up to us. We fed her good food and washed her,” she said. “She was really happy. And about six month later, along came Balino.

“He was so little, he almost fit in our lap. He was so friendly and loving,” Serena said.

Almost on a whim, she decided to put him in race training.

Arboritanza, who had recently started training on his own but had decades of experience in the trade, took on the little horse as an older yearling with no promises.

“The first times I ran him, he didn’t run very well. But I thought he would be a useful horse,” said Arboritanza, who trains at Peninsula Farm in Ocala.

“I didn’t realize he would turn into the horse he is. He had no pedigree and his confirmation wasn’t great. But he was willing, and we formed a connection,” he said.

Success was not instant. In fact, the colt’s first race was a disaster. Everyone was nervous, including Balino.

“He cried like a baby. It was a horrible day. There was a hurricane off the coast. He stumbled at the start. He lost a shoe,” Serena said.

Balino finished 10th out of 12 and the chart for the race, which comments on each horse’s performance, stated: “Balino was no factor after hesitating and ducking in at the start.”

That could have been both the beginning and the end of Balino’s racing career.

But “I give all my horses the same chance,” Arboritanza said. “In a bigger barn, he would have gotten shuffled to the back, because he was seen as not having the potential.”

Balino did better in his second race and won his third. He won again and the Serenas decided to give Balino a shot at the big time.

They entered him in February’s Sam F. Davis Stakes, a Kentucky Derby prep race.

“We thought he could handle it,” Serena said.

He couldn’t. The race was too much and he stopped, finishing last.

“It was too long for him, and he didn’t like the dirt. I thought all along he was a turf horse,” Arboritanza said.

After the Sam Davis, Balino finished in the top three in three straight turf stakes before his last start in the Naked Greed Stakes at Calder on Aug. 3.

“I knew that race was his. I could just see it in him,” Arboritanza said.

Balino’s racing style is uncomplicated. He runs as fast as he can from start to finish. In the Naked Greed, he quickly got to the front and kept pulling away from the field to win by six lengths.

“He’s got a heart as big as Texas,” said Arboritanza. “They rescued them (Balino and his mother) from the killers. I am very blessed that they gave me the horse to train.”

But even before Balino’s stakes win, the Serenas caught the racing bug. They now have three mares, including Love That Touch, and four other babies with more on the way.

“This was going to be something for us to have fun with. Never would I dream we’d get so involved with it,” Serena said.

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