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The healing powers of Brooklyn Flight
Monday, January 12, 2015 - by Rich Fisher, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent

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Rich Fisher
Trenton, NJ --- Some stories unfold with the distinct purpose of making people cry with tears of happiness. The tale of Brooklyn Flight and Frank Consiglio Sr. is one of them.

In May 2012, Frank Consiglio Jr. bought Brooklyn Flight for the sole purpose of teaming up with his dad in the harness racing game. Junior had long been a fan and his dad is a longtime trainer.

But on Aug. 30 -- Frank Jr.’s birthday -- of that year, Frank Sr. was diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was not good.

Three years later, though, Big Frank is back training Brooklyn Flight, who won nine of 41 starts and $104,871 last season while competing at The Meadows in western Pennsylvania.

But that wasn’t the horse’s greatest success.

The 7-year-old gelding’s biggest achievement is, and always will be, giving Frank Sr. the desire to get better, the will to live and the courage to beat his hideous disease.

“Flight motivated all of us, but my dad in a different way, a more meaningful way,” young Frank said. “Cancer is a beast and it makes you hopeless. It beats you down daily, gives you little to look forward to. Someone’s words only go so far, as a cancer patient is always hearing war stories and motivational speeches.”

In this case, however, one little horse’s silence was golden.

“While Flight didn't talk and isn't credited with saving my dad's life, he was one of the reasons my dad fought so hard,” Consiglio Jr. said. “What gets a cancer patient through the darkness is having something to fight for -- sons, brothers, sisters, grandchildren, that give you that something to live for. The difference with Flight was that every time he raced he was fighting for my dad.”

The saga began in early 2012 when Frank Jr. came across Brooklyn Flight online.

“I’ve always been a harness racing fan but the real goal was to experience the joys of ownership with my dad before it became too late,” he said. “I knew very little about buying horses, but I remember telling myself I wanted a horse that had recent winning lines.”

Frank got his dad and his uncle, Mike Consiglio, to drive from Illinois to Indiana to see the horse. They both liked him and brought him back.

“Little did I know that less than four months later, my dad would have to relinquish training duties due to his cancer diagnosis,” Consiglio Jr. said. “So now, here I am, new to the business, without my dad, having to navigate my way through ownership.”

Prior to big Frank’s diagnosis, they did manage to sort some things out. When Brooklyn Flight was purchased he was a non-winners conditioned horse and he was purchased because he was classified well and young Frank “thought he would pay for himself.” But to look at the horse, the first thought is that he is small and very average looking.

Those looks are deceiving.

“That’s because you can’t look inside,” Consiglio Jr. said. “We brought him to Maywood Park to race in the conditioned races on the half-mile (track) and to see what kind of racehorse we had. What we quickly learned is that he had some ability, but lacked confidence.

“My dad put him on a plan that worked and figured him out. We went from hoping that he would keep up, to winning at the highest condition level within his first 12 starts for us.”

Unfortunately, big Frank didn’t have much time to oversee his plan once he was diagnosed. He trained Brooklyn Flight for 15 starts and one of the last was a first-place finish on Aug. 31, one day after he learned of his cancer, and the birthday of Frank Jr.’s wife, Jessica.

Then came the long haul. Big Frank moved in with his son’s family to begin chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which took their toll. A vibrant man, full of gusto, was unable to get out of bed. But for 15 months he fought for his family and he fought to be able to attend races to watch his beloved Brooklyn Flight. He was not in good health, but the horse meant that much to him.

During the time that Frank Sr. was laid up, a crew of good folks helped the cause.

“There are so many people to thank, as it would have been very difficult without them,” Frank Jr. said.

They included Steve Weiss, Darryl Lyons and Joe Zizzo. Weiss helped in the transition, Lyons took Brooklyn Flight to Indiana to race and Zizzo took care of the horse “and did a fantastic job” in the fall of 2012.

In 2013, big Frank began to improve and reclaimed his training duties. But it would not be in Illinois.

“My dad needed a fresh start, not only with Flight but more importantly in life,” Frank Jr. said. “Everything in the Chicago area seemed too familiar. While he would miss his family tremendously, we thought it would be best for his health to be in a new place and have a fresh start.”

Thus, on a frosty December day, family friend Mark Fransen shipped the horse to The Meadows and Big Frank went along. Brooklyn Flight surpassed 2014 expectations by winning a career best nine races and earning more than $100,000. He also was nominated for the best older pacer award at The Meadows.

“God was watching over my Dad as he was put in the barn of longtime (horseman) Dane Snyder,” Frank Jr. said. “My Dad wasn't at 100 percent and still isn't 100 percent. He needed someone to watch over him, help him, make sure that he was okay. Dane and everyone else in the barn have been very helpful as they took my dad in as family.”

Through all of this turmoil, Brooklyn Flight has been a pretty nice little horse. In 93 starts for the Consiglios, he has 18 wins and $186,866 in purses. For his career, he has won 28 of 149 races and earned $244,535.

“I think his wins at the preferred level were big for us,” Consiglio said. “But the biggest wins were during the time my dad was sick.”

And it’s easy to see why. There are some instances, where the purse can’t even compare to the bigger picture. In this case, Frank Sr. was fighting for his life, and every time Brooklyn Flight raced, a little piece of Big Frank returned.

And it had a snowball effect. The better Frank got, the happier the entire clan became.

“It’s unbelievable how one horse can bring so much enjoyment to your friends and family,” Frank Jr. said. “I looked back at the 18 win photos I have from Flight’s races and it’s amazing to see all the people that are important to us present in those photos.

“Personally my wife, my son (Cole) and I, along with my family, have been affected in so many ways. Believe it or not, my uncle was diagnosed with stage four cancer in early 2013. He loved Flight just as much as us. He told me after he beat cancer, ‘You know Flight got both of us through cancer.’”

So while it’s a stretch to call him “Dr. Flight,” he certainly has some healing powers. And Frank Jr.’s original plan is coming to fruition, as his Team 19 Stables owns three horses -- Brooklyn Flight, Tune In and Temptationsforever, who was named by big Frank.

“We do everything together, talk every day, just like I imagined it before I got into the business,” Frank Jr. said. “While our journey was nothing like I expected, we are all in a better place now because of Flight. . . especially my dad.”

Pass the tissues please.

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