Maria Domina Falgione is a 38-year-old former working actor who performed in “Indie films, TV shows, commercials,” the titles of which do not come easily to her mind.
She did have the lead in both the New York and Las Vegas productions of the off-broadway play “Tony and Tina's Wedding.” Falgione played the bride.
“I got married six times a week for 2 ½ years, had like 75 wedding dresses,” Falgione said Sunday morning.
The place from which she spoke was not a stage. There were no bright lights or costumes. Just the stable area of trainer Mike Machowsky with cloudy skies overhead, Falgione dressed in jockey helmet and protective vest having put away her saddle and whip and horses, one of which she had just breezed over the Del Mar oval.
And Falgione said she couldn't have been happier or felt more at home.
In her first-ever ride as an apprentice jockey, in Saturday's second race, aboard a 4-year-old filly named Tee Em Eye, Falgione came home a winner. She guided the Machowsky-trained California-bred daughter of Cyclotron owned by Richard Barton in a sweeping move turning into the stretch in a 5 ½-furlong $16,000 claiming race and they won by 3 ½ lengths going away.
“The coolest thing I've ever done in my entire life,” Falgione said. “The filly was really good to me, she just carried me around there. She was a good girl. I made a few mistakes, got in a little trouble out of the gate and went a little wider than I wanted, but it all worked out.”
Falgione, a native of South Carolina, had worked with hunter-jumper class horses and also on her grandfather's cattle ranch in Nebraska before coming to California to pursue an acting career.
She had been working for Machowsky as a morning exercise rider for a couple of years and one day the notion of putting her into the saddle in an afternoon program was breached.
“They said, 'Do you want to ride a race,' and I said, 'Absolutely, I'll quit eating donuts for that,'” Falgione recalled.
Falgione did her due diligence, watching film with stewards along with other apprentices and working on the “exerciser” machine which jockeys use to hone race riding techniques.
“It was hard to find the right horse to put her on,” Machowsky said. “Apprentices can't ride 2-year-olds or first-time starters until they've won five races. I didn't want her on a horse going two turns her first time out or on the grass.
“This was a good opportunity and it all worked out. I thought she looked good considering it was her first race and all the talent in this jockey colony.”
Falgione shared hugs with dozens of well-wishers in the winner's circle and went back to the jockey's room for the traditional dousing with water, eggs, half-and-half, shaving cream, etc.
Acting is now entirely a thing of the past, Falgione said, and she's excited about her next race, whenever that may be.
“I really like my job and I love being here and everyone at the racetrack knows that and they made it very special. This is where my heart is now, with the horses.”
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