An Original - by Lenny Shulman

At the tender age of 85, after nearly three decades in the business of owning and running horses, Harry Aleo finally felt the love of the racing gods.

They delivered unto him the horse that would fulfill his wish to travel his beloved United States of America and run that horse in top stakes races, earning cheers of fans from coast to coast. Decked out in his Western-style suit and cowboy hat, Aleo gave off a contagious boyish enthusiasm that would have been remarkable from a man half his age.

The beauty of him, though, was he felt the same joy when he’d come out to Golden Gate Fields on a Tuesday morning to watch a horse work.

“Lost in the Fog was the pinnacle,” said trainer Greg Gilchrist, the only conditioner Aleo hired in his 30 years in the business. “But he had that same enthusiasm for a $10,000 claimer. He missed three races in 30 years of running his horses. That’s how much he loved the business and the horses and the people who worked around them.”

Harry Aleo was what people like to call an American Original. As far as I can discern, that goes to being honest, hardworking, fun-loving. A person who says what he thinks, proper etiquette and political correctness be damned.

The great thing about Aleo—and his kind are all too rare—is although he was outspoken in his politics, he didn’t judge you on your political beliefs or the cut of your hair. If you measured up as a person, he embraced you and let you inside his world.

A lot of that world was his horses and his beloved San Francisco. He lived and worked virtually his entire life in Noe Valley, in the Mission district of the city south of the skyscrapers. His parents ran a grocery store in the neighborhood, and Harry drove the delivery truck. Between runs, he became a regular at John’s Pool Hall, two doors up from where he would eventually open his realty office. Billiards was not his thing; laying 50-cent bets on horse races with the bookie in the back room was.

On his 22nd birthday, Dec. 7, 1941, Aleo climbed to the roof of his apartment building and oversaw a darkened city, its electricity turned off to thwart a possible Japanese air strike.

Shortly after, Aleo wore the uniform of the Army’s 87th infantry, fighting in France and Germany and serving under Gen. George Patton in the Battle of the Bulge.

Returning home, he opened Twin Peaks Properties on 24th Street. He did well in business, and equally well by people, keeping rents affordable even after gentrification of the area led others to make “killings” in the market.

Aleo didn’t much care for the gentrification or the alternative lifestyles that took root in the city. He kept a shrine to Ronald Reagan in his storefront to tweak his political adversaries. But he also fought like hell to keep chain stores out of the area, fearing they would hurt the small businesses that made up the fabric of the neighborhood. He served on various boards and in organizations to fight for the independents, and today 24th Street bears the fruits of his labors.

Walking into his office was like entering a time tunnel. The wood-burning stove, 1940s-era radios, papers and files stacked everywhere. The one computer, on Harry’s desk, he employed to track his horses, not realty. The walls were adorned with photos of Joe DiMaggio; Sonny Shy, his first winner; and Lost in the Fog, his great champion.

Oh, how he loved where Lost in the Fog took him. After watching him win the King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I) in 2005, Aleo gushed, “I love Saratoga. All those big Victorian homes with the porches, dormers, an American flag in every yard. People lined up at 6:30 a.m. to get into the track. Musical groups everywhere. That’s my kind of place.”

When the multi-million-dollar offers started flying in to buy his star, Aleo was shocked; and then flabbergasted at the people who said he should go ahead and sell.

“All those millions wouldn’t change my life, and I wouldn’t have the horse that has given me all this excitement and enjoyment,” he explained. “I’m not in the selling business. I’m in the racing business.”

Said Gilchrist after his client and friend passed away too soon June 21 at the age of 88, “The problem is, when we lose guys like Harry Aleo, there is nobody to replace them.

19 Comments

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Lory Phillips

Harry Aleo was what people like to call an American Original. As far as I can discern, that goes to being honest, hardworking, fun-loving. A person who says what he thinks, proper etiquette and political correctness be damned.

This is a great tribute to any man!

nothing better can be said.

01 Jul 2008 10:54 AM
Denise

I can only hope that Harry is watching his "Lost in the Fog" run in Heaven.

01 Jul 2008 11:58 AM
Cgriff

A life well lived.  I still remember a great TV moment when some hack from ESPN (who I believe shrank back into richly deserved anonymity) asked Mr. Aleo how running Lost In The Fog compared to D-Day in WWII.  Aleo shot back a very blunt, incredulous remark that basically was "How in the **ll could anyone compare those two things?"  It was so straightforward, so true and exposed said reporter for the fluffhead he was - it was truly a classic Aleo moment!

He will be missed - but now he gets to watch the Fog run against the all time great runners.  I know there will be a seat for him in "The Big Owner's" box!

01 Jul 2008 12:28 PM
FormerFan

Owning and running a race horse can be very exciting and rewarding.  but what do you do when your beloved prized race horse breaks down before your very eyes and has to be euthanized. It has to take a special kind of person who can say "Well, that's racing",  lets see if I can find another one at the upcoming sales this fall.  Wow,  what an adventure.

01 Jul 2008 1:30 PM
KAB

It appears not knowing Mr. Harry Aleo is my loss and everyone else's who never had that chance.

His spirit, his life, can be honored, by all, just remember his words, "I'm not in the selling business. I'm in the racing business" and live those words.

01 Jul 2008 3:29 PM
Alan

Harry and Foggy, two champions who were destined to come together...and will again.

01 Jul 2008 5:32 PM
Golden Gate

I loved your article on Mr. Aleo. Thank you for writing about him. This is the type of person that has made horse racing a great sport and has also made America a great country to live in.

01 Jul 2008 7:59 PM
flawlessly

I was privileged to receive several handwritten notes from Harry (with Lost in the Fog's photo on them, of course). He also sent me a copy of the DVD of LITF's races and called me at work one day to let me know about Smokey Stover's racing schedule even though he was battling cancer at the time. I will cherish all of the above forever. Thank you for writing this very touching article about him.

01 Jul 2008 8:45 PM
Johnny

Lost in the Fog was the only "big horse" that up to now, I've ever seen in person. And I owe that to Harry Aleo. I'll never forget the day, Saturday, October 1, 2005. Lost in the Fog was at the height of his success and national prominence, making most of his starts outside California in big races. But Harry didn't forget the folks back home and brought Foggy back to run in the Bay Meadows Speed Handicap and the venue was packed. It was the horse's last race before the Breeders' Cup. If it hadn't been for Harry's graciousness, I never would have had that opportunity to see the great Lost in the Fog up close.

Thanks for that day, Harry. You're with your beloved Foggy now. Rest in peace. Racing sure misses you.

01 Jul 2008 11:44 PM
Alison

Two great Harry Aleo quotes that still make me chuckle.

A reporter asked him what he would sell Lost in the Fog for, if he were to sell him.  Aleo's response: "there ain't no price tag."

A reporter, standing in the winner's circle with Aleo, asks him to describe Lost in the Fog.  Aleo: "well, he's fast."

02 Jul 2008 8:43 AM
FernieFernFern

Thank you, thank you, thank you for a beautiful tribute to a beautiful man and a life well lived.  How fitting that he passed just one day before his beloved Golden Gate had it's last day.

God speed Harry...

02 Jul 2008 9:56 AM
Bob

You have to love a true horseman like Harry Aleo who told all the big money owners to take a hike when they tried to buy the one horse he had been waiting 30 years for.  

I remember him walking past me after Smokey Stover won the Sunshine Millions at Santa Anita and he was one of the happiest owners I've ever seen.

There aren't too many like him anymore and the worst part is there aren't too many left to take his place.

02 Jul 2008 8:47 PM
Bellwether

LONG LIVE HARRY & THE KING!!!

04 Jul 2008 12:39 AM
Shelley

I will never forget Harry beaming over at me every time one of his horses was running at Golden Gate Fields...  I would yell, "go, Harry!", and that broad smile and big hat would surround me with the very best of horse racing.  Harry, a man who cared about his horses, who loved life and the people who reflected his integrity.  No one was more willing to share his success and his wonder at the magic of Lost in the Fog, Smokey Stover, Vicarino, Victorina, Wild Promises...  he was a gracious, beautiful man who exemplified the best in life, not just in the horse racing world.  As someone recently said, we only regret we didn't meet him earlier.  

If there is any justice in heaven, he'll be winning lots of races with Fog.

04 Jul 2008 12:59 AM
Greg R.

If all race horse owners and breeders were in "the Racing Business", it would most likely end 90% of all breakdowns.  

04 Jul 2008 1:21 AM
D4BROWN

He is the touchstone of what breeders and owners should aspire to.

04 Jul 2008 3:04 PM
nina

A true gentleman.

04 Jul 2008 8:59 PM
Jack G

Harry Aleo and I were friends for over 60 years. We were born a block apart and both went into the horse business in 1979. I was lucky enough to have a horse in 1996 Kentucky Derby, Matty G. Harry asked how I could be so lucky because I bred this horse myself. I told him your day will come and boy did it? He deserved every good thing that happened to him and the best part of Harry was that he was the same as the day I met him 67 years ago. We were both born in Noe Valley and we always knew,"You were already special when you were born there, Harry sure was!  

05 Jul 2008 11:53 PM
Megan

god bless Harry, he deserved a horse like the Fog, my personal fav. wherever he is, im certian his beloved Fog is there with him

07 Jul 2008 6:19 PM

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