As the saying goes, ‘Find a job you like, and you will never have to work a day in your life’.
While this holds true for humans, it can also be accurate for the equine superstars of harness racing too! Just one example of a horse that loves racing and truly enjoys his ‘job’, and life on the track is Atta Boy Dan.
The now-14 year old warhorse has 92 career wins and over $1.09 million in career earnings, with a 1:48.4 best. He is set to retire at the end of this year.
With Groom Eddie Dempsey at Pocono – Retirement Ceremony

The son of Western Terror – Dropitlikeitshot, is a full brother to Apellate, and was a $70,000 purchase at the 2010 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. He was then purchased by Peggy Dupler, who owned him for four months before returning him to Winchester Baye Acres. He was eventually sold to the Burkes and Weaver Bruscemi.*

Currently, Atta Boy Dan is owned by Stephen Larkin and trained by Peter Pellegrino. Larkin, who resides in Massachusetts, claimed him in September of 2019 for $40,000. The horse had been claimed after 14 consecutive starts, and Stephen was unwavering in his quest to own this horse.
“Five years ago, I was looking to claim a horse, and it was between Rock This Town and Atta Boy Dan,” he remembered. “I went with Atta Boy Dan because he was a much classier horse, and I think it took three or four weeks to get him! I attempted to claim him multiple times, and I finally got lucky.”
92 career wins. Over $1.09 million in career earnings. Impressive, especially since Atta Boy Dan has raced at numerous tracks. “He’s raced Pocono, Monticello, Tioga Downs, Freehold, and Meadowlands. I think his favorite is Pocono, but he’s always done very well at Monticello, the half-mile track. ‘Dan’ typically does like the front end, and at Monticello, when he gets to the front end, he wins.”
“He’s amazing,” he said. ”He’s just so good!”
In 2019, Atta Boy Dan was honored as the Pacer of the Year and Claimer of the Year at Pocono Downs at Mohegan Pennsylvania. In that same year, he had 19 wins, 6 seconds, and 4 thirds in 40 starts, and those 19 wins were a single year high, which topped his 18 wins in the 2015 season. The claiming award was bestowed upon him as he was claimed out of 14 consecutive races, and 19 times total that year. Everybody wanted ‘Dan’!
That record of 19 seasonal wins was what led to his being named 2019 Pennsylvania Horse of the Year from the United States Harness Writers Association, for horses making over half their starts within the borders of Pennsylvania.
Many drivers have been along for the ride during his illustrious career, including Hall of Famer Dave Palone in the earlier years. “He was one of my all-time favorites,” Dave said emphatically. “He showed up every week! I’m sure you won’t find one driver that has anything bad to say about him.”
While at Pocono, ‘Dan’ was driven both by Tyler Buter and George Napolitano Jr. Both drivers were quick to praise him and happy to be part of his career.
“He is the true definition of a tough racehorse,” Tyler Buter said. “He never raced for a six figure purse, and still broke a million in career earnings!”
George Napolitano Jr. added his accolades. “He was absolutely one of my top all-time favorite horses that year (2019). I won with him several times. He was claimed every week and still kept on winning! He was a sweetheart and loved his job. Tough as nails his entire life. He was a beast!”
His most recent start was a gate to wire win on Friday, November 10th at the Meadowlands, and Stephen was thrilled to be on hand for the win, making the long drive from Massachusetts. “It was the first time I was at a track when he won! I was there with my father and my daughter, Olivia. I’ve been to two races at Pocono but never when he won; he finished second both times.”
‘Dan’ exhibits no traits of a ‘grumpy old man’. He loves his cookies, and loves attention. “At the Meadowlands paddock on Friday (November 10), instead of having his face up to the gate, he had his back up against the gate because he loves butt scratches!” Stephen laughed.
Trainer Pete Pellegrino and ‘Dan’ have been a great team. Pete trained many horses over the years, but this one is special. “He’s by far, the toughest horse I’ve ever had,” he said. “And I’ve had some tough ones! He has to be one of my favorites.” Pete remembered how the horse would get claimed week after week, and each night, would come off the track lame. “The night I claimed him, he came out sore, but not lame, but they put me on the vet’s list for fourteen days. X-rays found a spot on him that we never would have found if we didn’t have that time off. Everybody thought it was his coffin joint, bur that wasn’t it. But we wouldn’t have found it if we raced him back the following week. And he’s been great since!”
The plans are already in motion for ‘Dan’ to be a therapy horse after his career on the track is over. “Whenever he stops racing, he will be going with Liz (Elizabeth Doskotz) to Freedom Horse Farm LLC.”
“Freedom Horse Farm LLC was founded in 2009 to give the ability for the disabled, as well as the able-bodied, to return to riding,” Liz explained. “Maybe those who’ve fallen off horses before, and for veterans, to have a relationship with a horse. We have riding lessons, and ground work with non-riding lessons, learning about how to create a relationship with a horse, and how to work through issues that might arise.”
Liz has taken a lot of rescues into the program over the years, starting with her first one, Manpower, and he was her first therapy horse, adding others over the years. She’s excited to add ‘Dan’ to the program. “When he’s finished racing, he can come here and teach riders and support the riders there, and the veterans that come there too. The veterans love the idea of working with a horse that has been on the track that has to learn a profession, because they served our country, and now have to learn a new profession.”
Preparing ‘Dan’ will go in steps. “Very soon, we will start putting a saddle on him to see how he handles that, which he should be fine with, since he wears a harness,” Stephen said. “That will be the first step. Then obviously we will transition to try to get someone to sit on him and see how he reacts to that. He will live out a great life there with Liz at the (Freedom Horse) farm.”
As for the possibility of racing him at age 15 in a few Amateur Races, Stephen says it’s ‘Dan’s’ decision. “We’re just going to let ‘Dan’s’ body tell us. If he’s sound, if he’s good and he’s ready to race, we will race him in the Amateur Races. If he’s not sound, we will call it a career.”
And what a career. What a horse!
*Hoof Beats November 24, 2020
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