History teacher Daniel Neukom has a new namesake – a horse named Neuk.
Neukom’s childhood friend Gerald Bortolazzo owns Bortolazzo Stable, which at its peak had 23 horses and now has a dozen. Its newest addition is Neuk, a two-year-old racehorse-in-training.
Neukom and Bortolazzo have been friends since they were second graders at San Mateo Park School in the Bay Area.
They continued through junior high and high school together, then attended rival California colleges; Neukom went to Stanford, Bortolazzo to UCLA.
Bortolazzo worked as an emergency doctor in the Atlanta region for 30 years before establishing his stable.
His interest in horse racing was sparked as a child, when his father took him to a racetrack in San Mateo.
“In the summer the fair would come, and they would run the horses for a week or so,” Bortolazzo said. “My dad would bet one or two dollars.” (Now Bortolazzo regularly attends the Kentucky Derby, and will be there for the 18th time on Saturday, May 2.)
However, owning horses was impractical while holding a job and raising a family (training a race horse costs $3000 a month, he said), so it wasn’t until he retired that Bortolazzo bought his first horse.
To produce Neuk, Bortolazzo consulted an expert breeder, who examined the genetics of his horses and recommended a sire, a successful racehorse named Parading, for Bortolazzo’s mare.
Once he had his horse, there was another challenge: coming up with a unique name. It couldn’t be shared by any current racehorses, and “Sea Biscuit,” “Secretariat” and other notable names are permanently off the table.
So owners are forced to get creative. In the official list of racehorse names, the Jockey Club Registry, “Neuk” is sandwiched between “Neuilly Minted” and “Neulovimyi.”
“I tried to make it funny,” Bortolazzo said. “Only Daniel’s closest friends call him ‘Neuk.’ He had lots of brothers, but only he was called ‘Neuk.’”
It isn’t the first time Bortolazzo has named a horse after an old friend. Before Neuk there was Marvino, a failed racehorse named after Marvin Hersh, a former Country Day substitute teacher. Bortolazzo sold Marvino after he performed poorly in his first two races.
“In his next two races (Marvino) finished seventh and eighth,” said Neukom. “The (new) owner phoned Gerald and said, ‘This horse can’t even pull a cart!’”
Unsuccessful racehorses are a concern, and not only because of the wasted money.
“We don’t want them to end up in slaughterhouses, so once they can’t race anymore, I usually give them away to riding schools or turn them into hunter jumpers or put them on a farm,” said Bortolazzo.
Bortolazzo even suggested to Neukom that if Neuk doesn’t race well, he’ll give him to P.E. teacher Michelle Myers, who admired the photo of the horse that accompanies this article. Myers owns eight horses for polo, several of which are rescued former racehorses.
But so far, there’s no way to tell if Neuk has potential. He is currently training in New Jersey, and will race for the first time in two to three months.
“He might race till he’s 10,” Bortolazzo said. “But he’s a baby, and I’m just hoping he’s going to be sound by the end of the race.”
“Gerald agrees that if (Neuk) makes the Kentucky Derby, we’ll all go,” Neukom said. “I would find it fun to place a bet on Neuk the horse.”
With luck, Neuk just might live up to his name.