Gary DeLeo: The People’s Man
by Debbie Little
Long-time Meadowlands event and marketing host Gary DeLeo has been referred to on national television as “the most serious man in horse racing,” and those who know understand why.
This compliment was paid to DiLeo by New York Racing Association (NYRA) TV personality Anthony Stapel on the April 30 broadcast of “America’s Day in Racing” when The Big M shared the night lights with Churchill Downs on Fox Sports 2.
Stabile DiLeo has known for about ten years and used it as a soundboard to make sure he was up to date on the latest action in belt racing ahead of the show.
“Belt racing has always been a passion of mine, but in my duties now I can’t pay as much attention to it, but I still keep an eye on things,” Stabel said. “But after a 10-minute conversation with my neighbor, he owns it all. It’s almost like watching a TV series. You could miss 10 months of the show and in three episodes, they’ll all catch up with you. That’s what it’s like to talk to my neighbor.”
Lisa Foto Gary DeLeo.
“And you know how much he does there and he’s always kind enough and kind enough to take some time out of his day. And when he helps you, he makes you feel like you’re the only one helping him and you know that’s not the case.”
DeLeo, a Linden native from New Jersey, started going to Old Meadowlands Racecourse as a teenager with his older brother Joe.
But it wasn’t until the late ’80s when the track became his workplace as well.
“There was a job seminar at the Meadowlands racetrack, and I went to it and that’s kind of how I put my foot in the door,” DeLeo said. “I remember Dave Brewer went to her too, but I didn’t know him then. He was on TV and assigned to do seminars on disability on Saturday nights.”
DiLeo would go on to get an information sheet, called “Harness Insider,” which he sold at the track.
“I sold mine for $10 when everyone was selling for $2,” DeLeo said. “I went for $10 thinking people think it’s better.
“It didn’t work,” he said with a laugh. “But then it came down to $5 and I was fine.”
Anyone who has spent time in Paddock Park, on the side of a track hanging by the track near the old building, should remember “Winners at the Wedge.”
The famous Big M party held at Kahuna Wedge was DiLeo’s idea and alongside “Talk to the Stars”, it was one of the most crowd-pleasing promos on the track.
“I hosted a party there every Friday night and we had $17,000 in Pick-4s,” DeLeo said. “We had so much fun. I would have the drivers and coaches come and talk. We were giving out trophies and always had live music.”
Although Delio says he doesn’t have a favorite driver, he does have a favorite coach and the best memory from his time in belt racing.
“I love Brett Billing,” DeLeo said. “I think Brett Billing is the greatest coach who has ever sat behind a horse.
In the late nineties, [owner] Sandy Goldfarb took me around the country to see the Shady Character Race. My biggest excitement in the race was going to the Little Brown Jug with Sandy and I was in the winner’s circle and I was like the Beatles throwing roses at people.”
DiLeo has been on the staff at The Meadowlands for more than a decade, and in addition to his winner’s circuit duties, he makes rounds of the arena and party seminars in pink, and can be seen regularly walking around the building interacting with fans.
“Gary is an amazing team player,” said Rachel Ryan, director of marketing and events at Meadowlands. “We rely on him a great deal – he helps us with events, race presentations, customer service and more. He is available at any time and is ready to step in and help get the job done. He’s not just a colleague. He’s a friend.”
Big M has always made customer service their top priority and DiLeo is on the front lines to make that happen.
On a nightly basis, none of the staff at The Big M interacts with fans more than DiLeo, who can be considered the face of the building.
“I want to give a shout-out to all the drivers,” Delio said. “They helped me a lot. If I tell them it’s someone’s birthday, they’re great with the fans. They just won the race, so they’re happy at first, so they keep on being happy.
“I love my job. I love going to work Rachel, Jason [Settlemoir] And Marianne [Rotella] Let me go and do what I have to do. I love talking to people. Everyone knows me, so there’s a lot of fun. Most fans have never been in the winner’s circle or been photographed with a horse. It’s a big, big thing for the fans. So, I chose different fans during the races to take their photo and they love it. I’m there for the fans.”
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