06/23/2010 11:00PM

All about family at Brooklyn Boyz


In the summer of 2005, after years of resistance, Anthony Bonomo Sr., a casual racing fan, finally relented to his wife's desire to take a trip to Saratoga. So enthralled was he by the experience that before returning to his Long Island home, Bonomo, an insurance attorney, privately purchased two horses and formed Brooklyn Boyz Stables.

Five years later, Bonomo, 52, has his own stable of horses, as does his wife, Mary Ellen, who races under the name MEB Stables. Last week, Mary Ellen's 2-year-old maiden filly Tiz My Time finished third out of 22 horses in the Group 3 Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot. Because of family obligations, neither Mary Ellen nor Anthony made the trip to England.

Family is a big factor in the Bonomo's equine equation. Their 23-year-old son, Anthony Bonomo Jr., is the assistant trainer for Belmont-based trainer Dominick Schettino. For the last two weeks, the younger Bonomo has also overseen the training of Connie and Michael, a 3-year-old filly who will attempt to give Brooklyn Boyz Stables its most significant victory to date when she runs in Saturday's Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont. Connie and Michael is trained by Ken McPeek.

"It's not just about winning races," Bonomo Sr. said. "It's more about the whole atmosphere of the family being together. It's become a family love affair."

Anthony and Mary Ellen grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and were childhood sweethearts. Mary Allen had a friend whose father was an assistant trainer, so she made frequent trips to the track, including Saratoga when, she said, "it was the August place to be. Now it's the summer place to be."

Bonomo Sr. would occasionally go to the races as a fan and gamble a few dollars, but he was never inclined to get into the game as an owner until his fateful trip to Saratoga.

"The trip to Saratoga was to watch races," he said. "I fell in love with the place. We have a home up there now."

When he formed Brooklyn Boyz, Bonomo had a business partner. But that person eventually got out of the partnership to pursue other interests. Bonomo, who won his first race in 2006 at Aqueduct with Brooklyn Bobbie, owns some horses with other partners, but for the most part he owns by himself.

Bonomo owns mostly claiming horses and New York-breds, and virtually all of his horses are trained by Schettino. When Bonomo went to Saratoga in 2005, a friend who had horses with Schettino sent him to Schettino's barn.

"Dominick's just a great guy, and he's a fantastic trainer," Bonomo said.

Anthony Bonomo Jr., who attended Adelphi University, where he played baseball, spent part of one summer working for his father, filing and doing paper work. He said he hated it and wanted to be doing something physical.

Bonomo Sr. introduced him to Schettino, who put him to work as a hotwalker. That was the start of his love affair with horse racing.

"I thought it was cool," Bonomo Jr. said. "I went into the stall, started grooming. It gradually built up, and I started really understanding this game. It was interesting how many things are involved in one horse − getting a horse to the races, getting the right equipment. It all captured me then. I really fell in it from there."

"This isn't a job for him, this is a passion," Bonomo Sr. said. "He's a very dedicated young guy. There aren't many 23-year-olds kids who leave the house at 4 a.m. and come home at 7 o'clock at night and never think twice about the social part of life."

With his son entrenched in the business, Bonomo began to buy more horses. His stable grew to 60 at one point but has since dropped to 48. Bonomo's Brooklyn Boyz Stable enjoyed a productive winter and spring, winning five races at Aqueduct with horses such as Lilly of Paradise, Felinefelon, Sallymasso, Bishop of Nola, and Giopi.

"My father, when he gets into something, he goes full speed," Bonomo Jr. said. "He doesn't gradually get into it."

Mary Ellen Bonomo has about a dozen horses, including Ms Stilletto, who has won twice at the Belmont meet.

"It started out as a hobby, but now it's more of a business," she said. "That's when you lose a little bit of the fun, because it's so much money you sink into it every month, but we're getting the fun part of it back. With Anthony doing it, it's more of an interest because it's my son's livelihood."

In 2008, while sitting in a box seat at Saratoga, the Bonomos met McPeek, a successful Kentucky trainer with a good eye for picking out horses at auction. The two agreed to do business together. In September, McPeek picked out a Roman Ruler filly for $80,000 who caught Bonomo Jr.'s eye. He recommended his father buy her from McPeek. That horse was Connie and Michael.

"She had a nice conformation, nice back end," Bonomo Jr. said. "I looked at her head, and she had a really big head with a long snout and a long airway, and she struck me as a nice filly."

"The Bonomo family will only get stronger and stronger in the game," McPeek said.

Connie and Michael made her debut Oct. 17 at Keeneland, winning a seven-furlong maiden race by 7 3/4 lengths. A few weeks later she was in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, in which she finished eighth, beaten 4 3/4 lengths. Three weeks after that, she finished third in the Grade 3 Miesque Stakes on the turf.

In her only start this year, Connie and Michael won a first-level allowance race on dirt by 5 1/4 lengths at Churchill Downs.

"I think this race will help her mature," Bonomo Sr. said. "We haven't seen the best of her yet. She's run some nice [speed figures]. I think she's only going to get better as she gets older."

Bonomo said he believes the same holds true for his son, who envisions training a string of horses one day − most likely for his dad.

"When he's ready and he wants to do that, I think that's what will happen," Bonomo Sr. said. "He's made a great name for himself on the track. A lot of people have commented about his work ethic and, more importantly, that he's a great kid, respectful. And he understands the business, and a lot of people recognize that he has the ability to one day I think be a great trainer."