Phil Marino Remembered

Phil Marino with John Henry
Phil Marino with John Henry
Photo courtesy of Tammy Siters

Word came the other day of the passing of Phil Marino on Feb. 26. He was 59. Many people don’t know who Phil Marino is, and that is a shame. The native of New Orleans was the legendary John Henry’s first trainer, and saddled the gelding to his first career victory and first stakes victory.

But there is much more to the story. Marino’s life changed dramatically because of John, and not for the better. What happened to him after reluctantly giving the horse up far transcended the typical racetrack tale of a trainer and his horse. Rather than tell the story in a sketchy manner, it’s best to just link to my chapter on Marino in the Legends series book on John Henry (see link below).

Marino, passed away at his home in Maryland following a lengthy illness. Among his survivors are his mother, Nancy Edgecombe; his aunt, Nina Mae Chachere; his brother, Joseph Marino III; his sister, Aaron Sealy; and his grandson, Chase Michael Marino.

Read more about Phil Marino's connection with John Henry here.


Leave a Comment:


Thanks for the story, Steve.  I remember Phil running a few horses in Maryland, but only sporadically.  I never knew the "rest of the story" [with apologies to the late Paul Harvey].  Racing is chock full of these types of bios, but this one is really poignant.  I'm glad to hear that Phil pulled out of his depression, but wonder what would have happened had they never raced John Henry at the Fair Grounds??/

03 Mar 2009 2:19 PM
Blue Blue Sea

Wow! That's an amazing and sad story all at once. Thank you for sharing this snapshot of a very special person in the life of one of America's favorite horses.

03 Mar 2009 2:24 PM

Thanks for putting up the story Steve.  I have always said, and always will, that without Phil doing what he thought was best for John (and bad for himself) John Henry would never have been the racehorse he was.  Anyone who loved John Henry owes Phil a debt of gratitude.  

03 Mar 2009 3:38 PM

Steve, what a touching story. It brought tears to my eyes. I would never have known anything about this man if not for you. If only Mrs. Madere would have listened to him what a difference his life could have been. Then again sometimes we have to go thru the wringer in this life to better ourselves and find happiness.

03 Mar 2009 5:24 PM

That's a bittersweet story.  I'm glad he came out the other side and continued to love Jobn Henry.

And what a funny picture!  "The rogue" being hugged by a man with a toddler in his arms!

03 Mar 2009 6:23 PM

Thank you Mr.Haskin for putting up this story. Like so many fans, we loved John Henry and therefore we definitely owe Phil Marino a tremendous debt of gratitude. God bless you Phil and a sincere "thank you" from the bottom of our hearts.

03 Mar 2009 6:44 PM

Thanks for the story Steve. The man went thru hell and still loved that horse. Some things cant be explanined by logic but by  looking into a man's heart things can look pretty clear.  Steve, thanks for looking into Phil's . God only knows where John Henry might have ended up if it wasn't for him. Rest in peace Phil Marino. You gave racing a wonderful gift.

03 Mar 2009 6:50 PM
The Real Guy, The Real Deal

Phil was a real friend, a real cool guy that love to help anyone he saw and met. I remember his jokes, his business saavy, the way he saw the good in the bad day. We will miss you Phil....

03 Mar 2009 7:24 PM
Claire Novak

Steve, I'm so glad you wrote this - I knew Phil well and although he went through a lot of hard knocks in his life, I always loved him for who he was - a fine horseman who loved the game and especially loved a gutsy horse named John Henry.

03 Mar 2009 8:59 PM

What did the subsequent trainer do differently with John Henry than Mr. Marino had done?

Did Marino train other horses to win after his addiction recovery?

03 Mar 2009 9:41 PM
Umatilla Joe

Great story Steve. I't really hits the labor of love that we have with our horses, in this case a very special one.

03 Mar 2009 9:58 PM

Thank you, Mr. Haskin.  I have just finished re-reading my copy of John Henry and it's sad to hear that Mr. Marino has passed away.  In spite of the troubles in his life, he still loved the horse and that is sheer beauty.  What a beautiful picture that accompanies this article.  One of my favorite photos of trips to Lexington is when I got to actually pet John Henry as he grazed.  It was overwhelming and still brings me tears of joy.  Thank you for sharing Mr. Marino's story.

04 Mar 2009 7:55 AM
Mike from Maryland


Listen to you and enjoy your work on the radio all the time and I also read some of your work.  I also saw Marino's name in the entries here in Maryland and had no idea about his history.  I will read about it now and remember with all,  the story of this man who departed us way too early in life.

Stay with it, your work is golden.

Mike B.

04 Mar 2009 1:15 PM
Megan Hayes (Bejshak)

Hello Steve, just wanted to say thank you for writing about Phil. I had the pleasure of working for him for a short year, and also getting to know him on a personal friend level. I have retired from the racing industry and did not know he had been ill or passed away until yesterday. Phil had a heart as big as John Henry's. He always looked out for people and tried to see the best in everyone he met. He was a perfectionest and a heck of a horseman. A little tough to work for at times, but only because he demanded the best from his help for his horses. For everyone who was lucky enough to meet Phil in their lifetime, they will remember his sneaky little smile and antics. I worked in MD. for him, and will never forget him galloping horses on Halloween in a huge gorilla suit. He was a prankster till the end, and I'm so sorry I never got to let my daughter whom he met as an infant meet him when she was old enough to remember. Phil flew my 14 month old little girl and myself to KY. when he moved away so he could meet her, I got to see the inside of Calumet's barns and meet John Henry and even groom Cigar while we were there. Phil left me with memories of dreams fullfilled and sadly was taken way too early. The way I see it, John Henry has one of the best grooms to ever hold a rubrag in my deceased ex-husband and best friend, and a great jockey in Chris Antley and many others in heaven, now he has his old friend and trainer Phil, and I guarentee anyone working for Phil Marino in his stable in the clouds had BETTER be in that barn by 5 am.!!! R.I.P. Phil, I will miss you.

04 Mar 2009 8:48 PM

On behalf of the Marino family, I would like to thank you Mr. Haskin for such a lovely article of rememberance for my Uncle Phil.  I would also like to thank all the bloggers that took the time to share their stories.  You are all very much correct, Uncle Phil's story is a bitterweet one riddled with many ups and downs.  What many of you may not know is that after being confined in a hospital for the better part of 3 years, coming close to death more than a few times, he perservered and regained his health enough to be released on the morning of his death.  He left the hospital and set off to do what he loved best-go to the track.  He watched a race in the company of good friends, and when he returned to his home, he suffered a heart attack and passed away.  The Lord sure does work in mysterious ways.  Although deeply saddend by his death, we are all very happy that after so much suffering and fighting to live and recover from his illness, he was able to experience his favorite past time once more before passing into the arms of the Lord.  I personally have nothing but very fond memories of Uncle Phil-everyone is right-he was a prankster and a comedian, which made his presence quite an experience.  He was the uncle that let us do what our father (his brother) would have never allowed.  I have fond memories of the summer that he let me go to the stable with him.  We would leave before the sun even thought of rising, stop at the Krispy Kreme for doughnuts and coffee, and then head to the stables for a long days work.  He taught me everything I needed to know about taking care of horses.  I was probably 10 or 11 years old that summer, and I'm sure I mostly just got in the way, but once I got out of that car at the stables, I was free to do whatever I wanted til it was time to go home.  I'll never forget how mad my dad was the day we came home soaking wet because Uncle Phil and I had gone swimming in the horse's pool. I was too young to know any better, but it was so much fun after such a hot louisiana summer day!  I'll never forget that summer and I will hold those memories near to heart for the rest of my life.  He was a great man and he will be fondly remembered and greatly missed.    

05 Mar 2009 3:16 PM

Remarkable story of these two.  It has made a lasting impression on me, as there are so many life lessons to be gleaned from it-- in particular, that no good deed goes unpunished.  And, I am in the dark as to why this man was cruely taunted at John's big Arlington victories.  Not surprising that their deaths were within about one year of each other, since Marino's psyche was so linked to John Henry.  The image of the horse dragging his trainer by the arm down the shedrow leaves me speechless, since I did not know that was even possible.  Well, I'll just have to read the full book now.  Lauren, your remembrances of your uncle were very moving, and that picture of horse and trainer w/baby during gentler times is invaluable.

10 Mar 2009 1:08 PM
Phil Flaherty


I knew Phil not from horse racing but as his electrician while he was in Baltimore living near Pimlico. I did several jobs for him and was amazed at how nice he treated me. I could not complete a job without getting a very large tip and a thank you every time I worked in his home, this in addition to prompt payment for my services. He gave my  6 year old son and I a tour of the track,and ride on a race horse for my son. A day my son will never forget. I was so sorry to hear Phil had passed away. Although I only knew him for a short time, to this day he was one of my favorite customers. My prayers go out to his family, he will be missed.

02 May 2009 10:24 PM
Darwin Justice

Lauren, I just wanted to say how sorry that I am to hear of the passing of your uncle Phil. My contact with Phil came last year, not through racing, but by is being pleasure horse people. We came across a Thoroughbred named Lettuce Begin that Phil had trained for Sandy Kleeman. Evidently, according to Phil, he and Sandy had a parting of ways also, and Phil left working for her and kept the Jockey Club papers for several of the horse that he had been training, including Lettuce Begin's. This horse in particular ended up being sent to New Vocations racehorse adoption in Ohio, which is where we came in touch with her. The lady at New Vocations told us that she had tried to contact Phil on several occasions, and that he was not willing to provide details on the whereabouts of the horse's papers.

Well, me being the stubborn person that I am, contacted Keeneland to see if they had a number listed for Phil, which they did, but it was out of service. Using Google, I typed in the area code and found it to be a Baltimore area code. This is where I contacted Pimlico and found that Phil was still around that area, and they provided me with a good number. I was able to get in touch with Phil and he provided me with all the info I needed to get replacement papers for Lettuce Begin, and she is now on her way to having a second registration as a Hanoverian.

I say all this because everybody I talked to said that there was no way that Phil was going to help me out, he's too tempermental to do anything for you, or if there's no money in it, Phil won't do it for you. Guess what? He did, with no strings attached. So Phil, here's another chance for you to thumb your nose at all of your naysayers out there.

RIP, and thank you Mr. Marino.

03 May 2009 8:14 AM
Susie Hawks

I feel like I've been kicked in the chest by a horse. I had no idea that my friend Phil Marino was gone.

Phil was a kind and generous man.

I trusted him and he was a true friend. He came to my aid with never a string attached. He was a honest man who loved what he did for a living. He didn't seem to  mind telling the story of when he had to sleep in his car, before he became successful. We met through my uncle Hank Stadnik, at the tack shop in Miami Springs many years ago...

He's been on my mind, too many years have passed. While searching for him, I found that he was no longer with us. So thankful for the time that I had with him.

Phil Marino, you are truly missed.

12 Nov 2010 10:29 AM

Dear Megan,  the story that you shared with us was a perfect tribute to your uncle Phil.  I worked for him at Hialeah, Delaware, and Saratoga as an excercise rider and Assistant trainer.  Yes he could be cantankerous at times, but for the most part he was very much a prankster and good hearted. Saratoga was the last racetrack that I worked at before moving back to Texas and settling down. He was the last trainer that I worked for before walking away from that industry. I have thought of him often and wondered how he was doing. It saddens me that I waited too long to find him and catch up on old times, but it comforts me to know that his last day was filled surrounded by friends and doing what he loved the most... watching the ponies run.  God bless you and your family.

09 Apr 2011 7:29 AM

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