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Nilo Raul 'Chino' Alonso | 1925-2008

He saw love of life through trying time

BALLAST POINT — That Friday morning started gloriously for Chino Alonso and his wife. Her doctor called with test results: The breast cancer she had battled for years was completely gone.

"My husband was so happy, you wouldn't have believed it," said his wife, Norma Alonso.

It should have been one of the happiest days in their 25-year marriage. But by afternoon, it turned tragic.

Mr. Alonso, who had always been healthy, suddenly became violently ill. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital. By early Oct. 5, less than 48 hours after they heard the good news from his wife's doctor, Mr. Alonso, 82, died of pancreatitis.

"That day he got sick, that was the last time that I ever saw him that he knew me," his wife said. "He left everything on God's green earth that he loved, and he never came back again."

He had come to the United States from Cuba as a young man. Everyone called him "Chino" because his grandfather was Chinese.

He was only 5 feet 2 and became a successful jockey in Cuba and the United States.

"He started riding when he was 14, in Cuba," his wife said. "He rode in tennis shoes because he couldn't afford boots."

His 27-year career took him all over the United States. For part of his career, he rode horses owned by MGM and Lou Costello of Abbott and Costello fame. He would entertain his family endlessly with stories of his travels and his victories.

Oddly, though, he never cared much for horses.

"I think he liked winning, and that's why he did it," his wife said. "I don't think he liked the horses too much."

In fact, he would tell his family that there was only one horse he remembered fondly.

"He would take a can of Coca-Cola and open it and put it in his back pocket," said his stepdaughter, Dianna Longo. "The horse would take it out of his pocket and drink it. That was the only horse he ever really liked."

His racing career ended when he was thrown from a horse during a race. Another horse kicked him in the head and stepped on his abdomen. Mr. Alonso spent several months in the hospital and would never ride again.

He spent the past 27 years working as a veterinary assistant at Tampa Bay Downs during the racing season.

But from the day he met Norma, his second wife, his life revolved around her.

"He would tell me he loved me 100 times a day," she said. "When I had cancer, he would cook for me and take care of me, do everything for me."

In fact, in recent years Mr. Alonso was consumed with fear that he would outlive his wife. They had lived together for a quarter-century, and he didn't want to live without her.

"He said when she died he would go out to his workshop and kill himself," his stepdaughter said. "He meant it, too. He didn't see any reason to live without her. There were never two people who loved each other more than they did."

Besides his wife and Longo, Mr. Alonso is survived by his daughter Barbara, sons George and Harry, five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have died. He can be reached at

He saw love of life through trying time 10/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 16, 2008 4:31am]
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