Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas watches his Belmont Stakes hopeful, Bravazo, on the track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, May 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
Originally published Tuesday, June 12, 2018 at 06:00a.m.
To become one of horse racing’s top trainers requires instincts, strategy acquired over time and tons of patience.
The right horses also help.
If the process were simple, there would be a lot more big-time trainers in thoroughbred racing. It’s tough to break into the game and even tougher to break through to the upper echelon.
Owners want the top trainers, so conditioners such as future Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher and current Hall members Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas, Bill Mott and Steve Asmussen get more inquiries than they can keep track of and have the luxury of choosing their spots.
“They’ve trained the best horses, start with the best horses, and they’ve earned the right to do it,” said trainer Dale Romans, whose colt Keen Ice upset 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah that summer in the Travers Stakes.
“Obviously, they’ll be at the big events more than others, and they’re all worthy. But there are a lot of good trainers that with the right horse they can win the big one.”
Trainers eagerly watch yearling sales with a keen eye on champion bloodlines. From there, it’s the process of following gut instincts about a horse’s potential and creating a strategy for development.
Asmussen said it can be a long, difficult journey.
“The attitude is stay humble or be humbled,” said Asmussen, 52. “It’s an incredibly humbling game, but tomorrow, if you’re in there you still have the same chance because they’re not going to put you behind the gates because you had a bad day yesterday.”
Chad Brown is considered horse racing’s next great trainer — if the two Eclipse Awards in his possession, basically “trainer of the year” trophies, haven’t shown that he’s there already. Wisely choosing horses has been the key to success for Brown, who credits his rise to “having experience in big-race situations” and a good staff.