By Emily Shields
On a weekday afternoon when they have a horse running, Daryle Ann Giardino’s shouts of encouragement can be heard across the mostly empty racetrack while her husband, Mark, looks on, bemused. The scene depicts two of the Giardinos’ great passions: a love of their horses and their voracious desire to fill the seats with racing fans.
“The horse racing industry was at one time on top of the world,” said Mark, “and it’s like they kicked the can down the steps from the ninth floor. Now racing is in the basement, and they don’t know how to
get it back up to the ninth floor.”
The Giardinos know just how thrilling horse racing can be because their homebred filly Home Journey has earned $279,920 and recently won the $100,750 Las Cienegas Stakes (gr. IIIT). They want to share that joy with as many people as possible, a drive that resulted in the making of “Behind the Gate,” their
award-winning horse racing documentary.
That Mark and Daryle Ann would meet, marry, and eventually champion the sport they love is nothing short of movie-script worthy, which makes sense. Daryle Ann’s father was the late cowboy actor Slim Pickens, who met his wife, Maggi, when she was galloping horses.
“I grew up in a horse racing family and broke colts for the track when I was young,” Daryle Ann said. “I’m just so blessed that Mark shares my passion.”
Mark used to visit the racetrack as a young boy and bet under the tutelage of his father and uncles.
“We didn’t have much money, but it was entertainment for us,” he said. “I had a far-off distant dream that maybe one day I would own a horse like the horses I saw on the track.”
Mark’s interest in the sport shifted primarily to betting when he grew up, but after marrying Daryle Ann, the urge to own came back.
“We finally decided to take the plunge,” he said. “One of the first horses we claimed hadn’t raced in nine months, but it crossed the wire first. Then on the way back to the winner’s circle, the horse collapsed on the track. I thought we had surely just claimed a dead horse and were out of the sport before we began.”
The horse was suffering from heatstroke and after 30 minutes of care, returned to the barn. “The horse never raced again, and that was the commencement in ownership for us,” Mark said.
The Giardinos, who now split their time between Las Vegas and Toluca Lake, slowly became more involved in the game. They branched out from claiming into buying unraced horses, including weanlings and yearlings. One addition to the stable was Miss Leuschner, who ran 18 times before injury led to her retirement.
“I told Daryle Ann we should breed her, but it took us a few years before we did,” Mark said. The winning daughter of Kleven produced Stormin Lucy, by Native Storm, in 2002. “She seemed like a Breeders’ Cup horse to us.”
California-bred Stormin Lucy broke her maiden on Sept. 30, 2005, and went on to run fourth in the $150,000 Fran’s Valentine Stakes. She earned $111,316 and has produced the winners Tuff Storm and Stormin Cee’s for the Giardinos, who race under the moniker GGG Stables.
As they expanded their stable, Mark and Daryle Ann acquired the winning Came Home mare Goodtobehome. Her first foal, the Decarchy mare Amazingly, won first out, but later was injured and
eventually sold to race at Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong. The second foal, a bay filly by Good Journey, became Home Journey.
“She’s pretty special,” Daryle Ann said. “We go to the track to watch her work in the morning and see how she’s doing. I’m sure we drive our trainers crazy.”
Trainer Mike Puype conditions Home Journey, who won her first two starts in impressive fashion in 2012.
“We thought we had something really special,” Mark said, “but she got hurt and was out 18 months.” After racking up a record of three wins and two seconds in seven starts, Home Journey went to the sidelines. “It has taken her a long time to get back to where she was, but we believe she has rounded into that first form now.”
After a seventh and a fourth in allowance optional claiming events, Home Journey won an allowance
optional claimer at Del Mar during her 2014 campaign. In 2015 she has finished second by three-quarters of a length in the $151,750 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Sprint, and won the Las
Cienegas. In the latter effort, Home Journey led every step of the way down Santa Anita’s hillside turf course to score by a length under jockey Rafael Bejarano. She now has five wins in 12 starts.
Daryle Ann cheers so hard for her horses that she regularly loses her voice after a race.
“They mean a lot to us, these horses,” she said. “I am so sick and tired of people saying they aren’t well cared for and other negative things. That’s what inspired the documentary.”
Daryle Ann had voiced interest in making a documentary for many years, but it wasn’t until Mark was diagnosed with throat cancer that the project proceeded.
“She had wanted to do it for 15 years,” he said, “but when I was diagnosed, we didn’t know what was
going to happen. Luckily, everything turned out well. Making the documentary was my love letter to my wife.”
“Behind the Gate” features the majesty of the Thoroughbred racehorse, as well as opinions from some of the sport’s biggest celebrities.
“We made a film you can take to grade schools, interest kids in horses, and show them what marvelous athletes they are, the purity of it,” Mark said. “The horse has been a part of the history of this country, and I think they’ve gotten away from that. What I wanted to see from this film was something positive about horses, the racetrack, the love and passion from everybody involved in it. It’s a seven-day-a-week job. The people in the industry don’t look for vacations—it’s just what they do.”
The documentary won the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum’s “The Wrangler” Award, which was doubly special as Pickens won it in 1971 for the film “The Cowboys.”
“If you don’t have people like my father and uncles taking the younger generation to the track anymore, then we’re going to lose a generation, and then another and another,” said Mark. “They need to invest in fans, and continue to invest.”
“And it’s the most exhilarating feeling when your horse wins,” Daryle Ann added. “We love these animals; they are our joy. That’s what we want