12/09/2011 1:53PM

Peter Ferriola, leading New York trainer, dies at 69

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Peter Ferriola, a three-time leading trainer on the New York Racing Association circuit, died Friday morning at his home in Spring Hill, Fla. A lifelong diabetic, Ferriola was 69.

Ferriola, a native of Philadelphia, worked for his uncle, trainer John Russell, as well as trainers John Campo Sr. and the Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel before going out on his own in 1978. He won with the first horse he saddled, Sea to Sea, on Feb. 3, 1978. Ferriola won 1,129 races before retiring in 2001.

Ferriola led the NYRA standings in wins in 1987, 1991 and 1992. His career-best season was 1992 when he won 149 races – including seven stakes – from 692 starters and his horses earned $3.7 million in purses.

Ferriola had a knack for turning claiming horses into stakes winners, including Argyle Lake, Nome, G’day Mate and Shine Please. Other stakes winners trained by Ferriola included Shots Are Ringing, Groovy Feeling, Kolucktoo Bay, Summer Tale, Soft Morning and Yaros.

“We did nothing but good,” said Jim Riccio Sr., an owner for whom Ferriola trained Argyle Lake, G’day Mate, Majestic Empire, and Nome. “Take Argyle Lake. He recycled him every year right on through the winter. He never pushed him over the line. That horse had [bad] ankles and he just managed him perfectly.”

“He loved horses, he loved people, he helped everybody that needed help,” said Ronnie Micallef, Ferriola’s daughter.

Micallef said she recalled being at a horsemen’s meeting years ago where the Hall of Fame trainer Mack Miller said, “If I ever was an owner I’d want Pete Ferriola to train my horses.”

Said Micallef: “My father was so honored that man said that out loud.”

Ferriola’s rise to prominence was not without controversy. In 1987, he was suspended 120 days by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board after three of his horses tested positive for Lasix, which was not permitted for raceday use at the time. In 1993, he had a horse test positive for cocaine, an offense for which Ferriola served 15 days.

Ferriola is survived by his wife, Ingrid; son Peter Jr.; daughter Ronnie Micallef; and granddaughters Holly and Bella.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Ferriola’s name to any horse rescue or retirement organization of choice.