Raymond Mamone, who bought his first racehorse in 1976 and then waited 42 years for his first graded stakes winner, passed away from COVID-19 complications May 3 in his hometown of Somerville, N.J. He was 88.
Mamone, who had been hospitalized with the virus in recent days, owned a small stable for decades and then in 2016 it came to include eventual multiple grade 1 winner Imperial Hint . Trained by Luis Carvajal Jr., Imperial Hint earned the nickname "Little Rocket" because he was small in stature and blessed with enormous heart and blazing speed.
Imperial Hint (by Imperialism) delivered the first graded stakes scores to both his owner and his trainer when he took the General George Stakes (G3) and the Smile Sprint Stakes (G3) in 2017 before finishing second by one length in the TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) that same year. He would go on to win the True North Stakes (G2), the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1), and the Vosburgh Stakes (G1) in 2018 and repeat in the Vanderbilt in 2019. He earned more than $2.2 million in his 25-race career with a 14-2-4 record.
"My heart is breaking. To me, he was much more than a client. He was a friend, an uncle, and a dad. Mr. Mamone was a very special man," said Carvajal, who traveled to the 2018 Breeders' Cup Sprint and to the UAE for the 2019 Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News (G1) with the horse (Imperial Hint finished third in both races). "He gave me opportunities I'd never had before, and he gave me the horse of a lifetime."
Mamone hailed from Brooklyn, N.Y., and quit school at the age of 14. He hustled to make money with odd jobs delivering ice, picking tomatoes, setting pins at bowling alleys until he found a job at an auto body shop. After learning the business and honing his skills, he eventually opened his own shop and then expanded it into a successful business.
Mamone was a Thoroughbred owner and breeder for over six decades. According to Equibase, since 2000 his horses have made 423 starts (68-55-54), earning $3,297,847.
He kept his mares at Shade Tree Thoroughbreds in Reddick, Fla. Shade Tree is the breeder of Imperial Hint, but technically the horse should be a fourth-generation Mamone homebred.
Imperial Hint's dam, Royal Hint (Lahint) was a third-generation homebred owned by Mamone and his late wife, Bernadine. But after Royal Hint had failed to produce a decent runner for several years, or any foal at all in some years, he gave her away to the Shade Tree owners. When visiting his other mares when Imperial Hint was a 2-year-old, the flashy colt caught his eye and he asked to buy him. The price was $17,500, and at the time, Mamone joked that he got the "senior citizen discount."
Carvajal said that many years ago Mamone had a hand in getting his career started, and with a literal leg up.
"I was at Monmouth Park looking for a job. Bob Durso told me that if I could get on and gallop this (particular) horse who was very tough to gallop then I would get the job. I did it and Bob gave me the job. The horse was named Ray's Testimony and he belonged to Mr. Mamone," said Carvajal, who worked his way up to be Durso's assistant before striking out on his own.
At the time of his passing, Mamone, who because of his octogenarian status had previously sold Imperial Hint privately to stand as a stallion in Louisiana, had only a two-horse stable and both are with Carvajal.
"I have a nice filly for him and she's already at Monmouth Park," said Carvajal, who stables there every meet. "He was really looking forward to seeing her run there this summer.
"This is heartbreaking. But I'm glad he's resting peacefully now and he's not suffering."
Mamone was predeceased by his wife, Bernadine, and is survived by their son and a daughter, and several grandchildren.
Carvajal said there will be a private service for Mamone on Saturday, May 8 in Somerville, N.J., and arrangements are still being finalized.