Jockey Joe Datillo: 1918-2010. RIP at the 1/4 Pole at Rockingham Park!

 Here is Joe in 1942 Suffolk Downs!!! He died in 2010; his ashes were spread at the quarter pole at Rockingham Park, Salem, NH.



Joe’s Obituary  January 30, 2010

Mariano Joseph “Joe” Dattilo was born in St. Louis, MO on May 7, 1918. Were horses always his passion? No! Growing up, animals didn’t much interest him one way or the other. One day in 1939, two of his father’s friends from the Italian Club in East St. Louis, took him to the track and urged him to get on a horse. “They said I was a peanut and a natural”, Joe recalled. (At 21 years of age he was five feet tall and 100 pounds.) He wasn’t quite a “natural” as it took him almost two years to win his first race. Joe was, however, dedicated enough to the sport to become a recognized name and a record holder. In March of 1942, at Oakland Race Track in Hot Springs, AK, he and a horse named “Turntable” completed a two mile course in 3 1/2 minutes; 68 years later that record still stands. During his 20 years as a jockey, he traveled the country, competing in more than 2,000 races at 27 various tracks and jockeyed for celebrities such as Bing Crosby, Louie Prima, and Al Capone’s sister. He rode with notables Eddie Arcaro, Johnny Longden and John Adams and was a contract rider for the powerful Valdina Farms.

In reminiscing, Joe told of the thousands of people who would watch even a small race just for the thrill of the game. He added that today jockeys seem to be “up in the air” more, whereas in his time, they were kept low. There were no female jockeys then, even though today, in his opinion some ride better that their male counterparts. As impossible as it may seem, he believed that winning the Triple Crown is attainable.

For those who believe horse racing isn’t a contact sport, Joe contradicts them, and he knows what he’s talking about! “It’s one of the most dangerous sports! Several of my colleagues died; others became paralyzed. I suffered five skull fractures, two broken vertebrae and several fractures in my legs.” One of the leg fractures led to a permanent injury later on in life.

Tired of traveling and his age were the determining factors in his decision to retire. Instead of returning to his native St. Louis, he settled near his favorite racetrack, Rockingham Park in Salem, NH. The reason: ”That’s where I won the most races, and I love the atmosphere and people.” When he ended his career in 1965, he took various jobs at the “Rock” including Patrol Judge, Clerk of Scales (weighing in jockeys before races), Tending the Colors, etc. It’s one of the places where he was the happiest, where some of the locals recognized and talked with him about his “Glory” days. His claim to fame: He was next in line to ride Seabiscuit if the scheduled jockey was unable. In the book Seabiscuit, Joe Dattilo’s name is mentioned as a contributor (A movie by that name was released as well.)

Joe died at Salemhaven Nursing Home on Sat. Jan. 30, 2010. On Thurs. Feb. 4th, at a regularly intentioned morning Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Salem NH, his ashes and picture were present; close friends were in attendance.

Following the Mass, a motorcade processed to Rockingham Park where at the quarter pole a service was conducted by Chaplain Lee Alphen, and according to Joe’s wishes, his ashes were dispersed. Arrangements were by the Douglas & Johnson Funeral Home, Salem, NH.


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