Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Horses Are The Best Medicine For Agrinsoni - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Kirkpatrick & Co Presents In Their Care: Horses Are The Best Medicine For Agrinsoni

Photo courtesy Frank Agrinsoni

Few questions are needed to prompt Frank Agrinsoni into telling his life story in well under an hour.

Yes, he talks fast. And he is unflinching as he speaks of mistakes made as a two-time divorcee, an itinerant career typical of many racetrackers, a grim battle with cancer that is now in its fourth year and the passion that sustains him, his love of Thoroughbreds.

“Nobody gave us a manual when we signed up for life,” Agrinsoni, 54, began.

And he was off to the races during a phone interview that largely turned into a delightful monologue by a good man.

Although Agrinsoni lacked a manual, his father Jose's background as a jockey turned exercise rider turned trainer certainly shaped his life. Jose left Puerto Rico to come to New York, where he worked a night shift at Nabisco, then trained horses at Aqueduct  Racetrack or Belmont Park each morning. His son accompanied him to the barn whenever possible.

“I fell in love with the horse as soon as I saw one,” Agrinsoni said.

He served as a hotwalker at a tender age. With his father as his role model, he developed a tremendous work ethic. He just never viewed it that way.

“It's not work. It's a lifestyle,” he said. “If you can't handle seven days a week, the 16-hour days you sometimes put in, then this is not for you.”

Agrinsoni tried to devote the hours necessary to being a good college student. He attended William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., only to realize after a year and a half that advanced studies were not for him.

“The horses were calling,” he said.

He happily answered that call. He has worked as a hotwalker, groom, foreman and assistant for so many trainers that he lost count of them all.

“I'm a utility man,” he said. “Wherever I'm needed in the barn, that's where I go.”

He has been employed by luminaries such as Dick Dutrow Sr., Carl Nafzger and Steve Asmussen, making sure to absorb knowledge from anyone he ever reported to.

Photo courtesy Frank Agrinsoni

“This is not a factory where you train as a forklift driver and you train for six weeks and you're done,” he said. “This is an ever-evolving business. I've been 40 years in this game. I'm proud to say that. I'm still learning. Certain horses have to be handled a certain way.”

According to Agrinsoni, his greatest lessons derived from overseeing modest horses at small tracks.

“I grew up with horses that used to run for $3,000, for a ham sandwich,” he said. “I know what it is to take care of a horse that, after a race, he can't stand and eat from a feed tub. You actually had to put the feed tub on the ground because he was so sore.

“Being at a lot of cheap tracks, you get horses that nobody wants from the big tracks. I'm good with the problem children. It's like I tell everybody, 'I can treat the physical. It's the stuff between the ears we've got to work on.'“

Pearl Hagadorn, an assistant to trainer Cherie DeVaux, hired Agrinsoni two years ago to help her with a string of horses at Trackside Training Center in Louisville. He was grateful to gain a place in the operation because he believes DeVaux, a former assistant to Eclipse Award-winning Chad Brown, is on her way to becoming an outstanding trainer. He enjoys a great rapport with Hagadorn, who readily admits she often assigns him the barn's “problem children.”

“He would never complain about it,” she said. “He gets along with all horses.”

Hagadorn treasures employees such as Agrinsoni because he is devoted to the horses entrusted to them.

“It's just a totally different type of human being than the ones just there for the paycheck,” she said. “They have empathy. They understand the body language. They know how to interact and read their facial expressions, which you cannot say about a lot of people in the business anymore.”

Agrinsoni is as gregarious as he is loquacious. He speaks English and Spanish fluently. He moves around the track with the ease of a politician working a crowd.

“Anywhere you go with Frank, everybody knows him,” Hagadorn said. “It doesn't matter what state you're in or what track. There are at least three or four people who will say hello to him.”

She noted that Agrinsoni often gives of his time to help other workers with needs away from the track.

Said Ken Snyder, a long-time friend: “He's one of the nice, good people on the backside. I've never heard a bad word spoken about him.”

Agrinsoni spoke lovingly of his three children: Francisco, 15; Shandra, 14; and Asia, 10. He lives with his parents in Louisville. Jose is 80. Olga, his mother, is 78.

“I have no money,” he said. “So my reputation is everything.”

So is health. He finally hopes to regain that once he undergoes a prostate operation to remove malignant cells. The procedure has been on hold since last January due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His battle with cancer began when a colonoscopy revealed a tumor in 2017.

“It's been hell,” he said. “In and out of hospitals. In and out of chemotherapy.”

Agrinsoni said doctors are confident they can eradicate the few cancer cells that remain. He looks forward to returning to the backside and the track in the spring, if not sooner. He views that atmosphere as critical to his recovery.

“When the trumpet blares for the call to post, I'm like an old gelding that feels it's time for business,” he said. “There is no drug that I could ever take that beats a horse coming down the lane in front and you had something to do with it. From that quarter pole down, I still get goosebumps. The hair on the back of my neck still stands up.”

Words spoken by a man who has much to live for – and much to give.

Tom Pedulla wrote for USA Today from 1995-2012 and has been a contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Blood-Horse, America's Best Racing and other publications.

If you wish to suggest a backstretch worker as a potential subject for In Their Care, please send an email to [email protected] that includes the person's name and contact information in addition to a brief description of the employee's background.

Paulick Report Icon

Receive daily headlines, breaking news alerts, promotions, and much more!

Become An Insider

Support our journalism and access bonus content on our Patreon stream

Learn More