Many believe that a horse is only as good as its trainer. Every horse owner that dreams of fielding a horse racing winner must have an expert trainer. It is the job of the horse trainer to care for the horse and prepare it for racing events. In most jurisdictions, horse trainers must be licensed or hold a permit in order to train horses.
It's one of the most talked about positions in sports. The prestige carries a country-wide affinity, and, at times, personal and financial rewards are indescribable.
The thoroughbred horse trainer is in a position that requires knowledge, time and energy. Most of all, the position demands a true love for the equine athlete.
Horse trainers serve as the backbone for the thoroughbred horse's progression.
The trainer holds the position of chief authoritarian about everything pertaining to this majestic animal: grooming, feeding, saddling, bathing, bridle, supervising and most important - planning. Trainers supervise the preparation of horses which includes a walk around the barn to a full workout on the racetrack. The trainer also serves as an intermediary between jockeys and the owners or vice versa.
The schedule for a racehorse is straightforward and even the smallest of changes can throw the entire regimen in a loop. It doesn't make it any easier for trainers in that every horse is different.
"She's picky, you know. Don't like mud on her grass", said Trainer Frank Whiteley about Ruffian, the best filly ever, one day in 1975. Might be too wet for her today?
Everyday the track brings something new in either the course or the weather or the temperament of a thoroughbred racehorse. It's the trainer's job to know exactly how to handle each of his own horses. Even if the trainer has done his best, sometimes it isn't always good enough as Todd Pletcher, last year's Eclipse Award winner for top trainer, can attest.
"Obviously, we were disappointed with Bandini", Pletcher said in reference to his top Kentucky Derby contender from the previous year. Johnny (Velazquez) said he never really could get him to settle in behind the dirt. "One reason we chose the outside post was that we wanted to be out there and in the clear a little bit, and it just never worked out".
Trainers experience the ups and downs of horse much like Wall Street embraces the fluctuations of the stock market. Weathering the storm through the hard times is what can keep a trainer afloat in the Sport of Kings. Just ask California-based Trainer Jorge Gutierrez.
"It was bad," said Gutierrez. "There were times I wanted to start looking for a job again. I put my wife and kids through a lot of drama, but my wife, Arylnn, was very supportive. She said don't give up? But I've always been a guy that doesn't give up". Gutierrez persistence paid off as he was offered the job to train Beneficial Bartok, who finished second in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf a month ago.
Trainers have a world of responsibilities and even the smallest of mistakes can be devastating- but there is a huge upside to the role. Trainers can be blessed to have that one wonder horse that comes along only once in a lifetime as it did for Whiteley and many others.
Lucien Lauren had a 45-year training career that ended with 1972 Kentucky Derby winner Riva Ridge and 1973 Kentucky Derby winner, Secretariat. Secretariat was the Triple Crown winner that year and shattered the course record in the Belmont Stakes.
Financially, the game can be very rewarding as well. It's not uncommon for trainers to take home in excess of over $8 million dollars at years end.
Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. put it best after watching his star horse, Saint Liam, stave off a late challenge to win the Breeders Cup Classic, America's richest horse race: "I will be partying until four in the morning".
Dutrow said, "Can you blame me?"