Through diligence, tryouts, and education, Anthony Affruniti has moved from the ice rink to the top of the racetrack – literally.
The 45-year-old Affruniti is in his second year as the official timer and photo finish camera operator for American Teletimer that covers Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct.
While it may look easy to time a race and take a picture of the horses passing the finish line, Affrunti vouches there is a lot more to the job that includes knowing the pole markers for fractional times of each race and making sure the beam signals and camera are ready when the horses cross that mark.
“There is a lot of pressure to be on point,” he said. “There are ways to double check everything. I have to be sure I’m at the right course, the backup camera is working and in focus, and I have the right time on the timer.”
Affrunti has always been involved in some aspect of horse racing as a fan and employee since his years at Garden City High School when his uncle, who owned both harness horses and Thoroughbreds, suggested he should work for the late Dominic Galluscio in 1992.
Every weekend for $50, Affrunti learned how to walk horses and work around the shed row. Perhaps one of the challenging experiences for him as a hotwalker was handling slow horses, in particular a claiming gelding named Mapale.
“Mapale was so slow,” he said. “It took me 30 minutes to walk him once around the shed row because he walked so slow, but I wanted to learn how to walk horses. Eventually, Galluscio gave me more horses to walk, then then I started raking the shed row.”
Following the short experience with Galluscio, Affrunti worked for trainer Robert Klesaris for the next 1½ years that included a 5:30 a.m. start time during the winter. Affruniti also played high school hockey through his senior year until he broke his ankle during a game in January 1993 that sidelined him in the barn.
“I walked about six horses a day,” he said. “Then, I would be hosing water on the horse. I remember one brutal winter when it was 12 degrees and I was standing there with a hose for 45 minutes. Everything was a learning experience. My parents had no idea about what they had sent me to do. I have learned a lot working back there.”
For his first two years at C.W. Post, Affrunti still went to Aqueduct and Belmont as a fan. However, it wasn’t until Fall 2001 when he transferred to St. John’s University to eventually earn his bachelor’s degree in sports management.
Heading into senior year at St. John’s, Affrunti also returned to work at the racetrack. This time, he was an intern for the New York Racing Association’s communications office where he wrote daily backstretch notes, feature race previews and recap stories during the Saratoga meet for two seasons.
About halfway through Affrunti’s second season at Saratoga, writer and handicapper Ed Fontaine informed him about a position at the New York Post where he would handle the horse racing entries and results on the pages. However, Affrunti would have to wait until the end of the meet to “try out” for the position.
Also going into that fall, Affrunti made the commitment of coaching hockey at Killenberg High School in Uniondale and other jobs included working on an “overnight” video project featuring former New York Islander center Alexei Yashin and hockey historian and announcer Stan Fischler on how to play hockey.
With that video project starting at 9 p.m. for the next 12 hours, Affrunti had very little time – and barely any sleep – to go home to shower, then get to Manhattan in the early afternoon for the newspaper tryout.
“At one point when I was sitting at the computer, I caught myself dozing off. I couldn’t believe I was about to fall asleep during my tryout,” he said. “I came back the next day and Friday. On Monday, I got the job.”
For the next eight years, Affrunti went from typing and paginating horse racing entries and results to becoming one of the New York Post’s handicappers. As technology quickly paginated information, the New York Post cut 13 positions, including Affrunti, Fontaine and John DaSilva – the day before the 2013 Belmont Stakes that silenced the press box.
“I saw it coming,” he said. “After being told that, we went to Belmont. Everyone knew it in the press box. Everyone was mumbling and whispering. It got dead quiet. Everyone got nervous.”
That layoff did not discourage Affunti as he became a freelance writer for NYRA, co-host for the Horse Racing Radio Network, and even a Zamboni driver and ice maintenance manager for the New York Islanders. Then, his next opportunity arrived when Morehouse retired after four decades of being the timer and camera operator for Teletimer.
“Don asked me if I was interested in the job and he could train me,” Affrunti said. “He said I had been around long enough to know everything about racing. I started training 1-2 times a week at Aqueduct and Belmont. He eventually took off one day and I did it on my own. It was a test run and everything went fine.”
Affrunti officially took over in November 2018. Besides the pressure of accuracy, there is also the importance of being at the track every day, especially since he doesn’t have a backup or replacement.
“I think I have taken five days off,” he said. “If something happens to me, there is no one who can time the races.”
Affrunti also still finds time to handicap races for the Albany Times Union. Along with selecting horses, he also provides entertaining banter at Tim Wilkin, who also returns the humor by often calling Affrunti as “Herbie.”
Since walking horses nearly 30 years ago, as well as attending and working the 30 consecutive Belmont Stakes races that include Triple Crown winners American Pharaoh and Justify, Affrunti believes he has made it to the top -- literally.
“I’ve worked the backstretch during the Belmont,” he said. “I worked for the press. I’ve gotten quotes after the race for the press office. Here I am, all the way up at the top.”