11/30/2010 3:04PM

Frank Passero, former trainer, dies


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Trainer Frank Passero, who had saddled 2,060 career winners before retiring last year, died in a hospital Tuesday morning at age 77 following a long battle with cancer.

Born in Fort Erie and based mostly in Ontario since he began training in 1965, Passero was the province’s leading trainer in races won in 1981, 1982, 1988, 1992 and 1995.

Passero also won three individual meet titles at Woodbine and 11 others at Fort Erie or Greenwood. He still holds the record of 89 winners for a Woodbine meeting, set in 1995, a year in which he saddled a career-high 133 winners.

Passero cracked the century mark on two other occasions, with 124 winners in 1992 and 121 in 1995.

While he did race mainly at Delaware Park from 1998 through 2000, Passero spent almost every winter in Florida.

In 1995, Passero finished in a tie with Bill Mott for leading trainer in races won at Gulfstream with 23.

The following year, Passero was in the racing headlines throughout the winter as he sent out 14 straight winners at Gulfstream and finished second to Mott with 33 wins at the meeting.

Passero and some of his grooms had been accused of rubbing cayenne pepper on the genitals of his horses with the design of getting them to run faster. The trainer stated that he used the cayenne pepper as a muscle relaxant on the legs of some of his horses.

Florida’s Division of Pari-Muutel Wagering brought a complaint against Passero, in which he faced losing his license, but he was cleared of any wrongdoing.

The story is dealt with in great detail in Passero’s authorized biography, “Winning Ways,” which was written by Joe De Falco and published in 1997.

While Passero was best known for his prowess in the claiming arena, he also had at least 24 stakes winners during his career, including Wild Zone and Fleet Wahine during a period when he was training for Frank Stronach.

Passero also saddled stakes winners I Can’t Believe, Miss Inquisitive, Bright and Golden, and Foxy Money for owner John Brnjas.

Passero left the racetrack for a time in 2004 to help launch “Passero’s Antiques, Fine Furniture & Collectibles” in Schomberg, Ont. His wife, Sharon, and a daughter, Lisa, are still operating the business.

Funeral arrangements were pending as of Tuesday afternoon.