Ralph Nester: Becoming a Trainer

I met some wonderful people while at Derry Meeting Farm; a lot of prominent people in the racing world and in the thoroughbred sales ring…like Laddie Dance, the auctioneer.

I had a great time going to the Saratoga Sales with yearlings, it was fun getting them ready.  I’ve already covered some of those experiences.  I was young, and at night after the day at the sales pavilion, I’d go out to Lake George, a popular night spot for music and a couple small drinks.  I never was a heavy drinker. 

Anyway , while the farm life offered many benefits for a family and good relaxed way of life, the routine of the farm was starting to get a little old.   My brother Howard ran a training center in Glasgow, Delaware called Sunview Training Center where once stood the last living son of Man o’ War, his name was Free France.   I’d love to have a picture of the sign, which read that the farm was owned by Charles “Buck” Petrillo, a self-made businessman from Wilmington Delaware of Italian descent, a character to say the least!   He was in the concrete business/stone quarries and the family still owns interest in a major portion of concrete business in Delaware.  He owned it in with his brother, Dennis Petrillo, and sons  Johnny Petrillo and Charles Petrillo Jr., and Dennis’ son, Dennis Jr.   Dennis Sr. also owned a trucking company, Shellpot Trucking Company; thus the name of a horse my brother trained named Shellpot.  He won the Little Brown Jug Handicap at Pocono Downs.  I sure take the long way around to get to a story…

Well, Buck would drop his son Johnny off at Sunview in the summer and go to his favorite watering hole and then come back in evening to get him.   My brother and his wife Jayne watched him and he played with all of our children mostly, my brother’s kids Howie Jr., Mary, and Virginia.  Well, last words Buck would tell Johnny very sternly were,  “Boy, don’t you ride those ponies.”  A friend, George Kelly, had three on the farm.   As soon as Buck would get out of sight, Johnny, who was and still is ornery as can be, would along with the other kids, take a baler twine and make a loop around the ponies’ muzzle.  They’d fly around the paddock, a large three acre paddock.   When they saw Buck’s car coming back down the lane, they’d all just fall off the ponies and run and hide, and sneak back to barn or house.  They never got injured, darn lucky.

The Kids at Sunview Farm


My brother and I decided it was time for a racehorse so we bought horses “on the cuff” which means the owner supplies the horse and we did the breaking and the training and we split all profits 50/50.   I approached Mr. Sasso, (my old boss at Penowa Farms) and he had this filly.  Her name was Blue Swan, a very fast sprinter, but she had a few chips in her knees,  but we were able to handle that.  Actually, my brother did with ice boots and legal medication. 

Ralph (R) and his brother, Howard (L)


So, that  started my racing/training career; we made the deal and went and picked up Blue Swan at Penowa Farms.  Howard and I would talk to the wee hours of the morning and then on the phone each night. One night I was on phone and Howard was going through her training, schedule, and other details.   I had been up late the night before…well, we had talked for about an hour and a half on the phone. 

I heard a faint voice, “Ralph, did you fall asleep?”  When Howard was into a project, he was really into it. 



9 thoughts on “Ralph Nester: Becoming a Trainer

    1. Thank you! I think I hit a goldmine with Ralph ~ so many more coming and we’re just about to start with his actual training years. I’m hoping people are as interested in these stories as I am; I think they have to be told! Keep reading and thank you!


  1. My father Stan Bartkowski and his brother Bill owned a horse at Sunview when I was a kid. My uncle worked at General Motors and his foreman, Virgil Coleman- Homer – was the trainer, and he trained the horse in the evening after work. This meant that sometimes after school I could go to Sunview and see him train.When I was 11, Homer let me jog a hose that he owned named Glow’s Tear in the big barn. Billy Leasure galloped there for his father Wayne and eventually rode some races at Delaware Park. Great memories! I work at Belmont, Saratoga, and Gulfstream now with my boyfriend, Phil Serpe.


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