Job Posting: Derby Winning Horse Trainer

If you were looking for summers off, and ending your day at 4:00 p.m., maybe you should have become a teacher. If you like to walk and get tons of exercise, maybe you should be a mail carrier. Or, if you like being around horses, and love the trips to the winner’s circle., maybe you should become a horse trainer. Now, all of these jobs sound good, but you have to read the fine print. There may be a little more to the job you are seeking.

Once upon a time I began my love affair with going to the track with my Dad. But I wanted a little more and sought to be a horse owner. I knew someday I would get my chance, and meet the right people to venture into racing. It came, and my education began. I found out there was quite a bit more than just drinking coffee along the rail and watching the ponies workout in the morning. When I arrived at the early hour of 7:30 a.m., I assumed that things would have just been getting started. Now, that may hold true if you have 20 people working for you in your barn, and you have strings of horses at many different tracks. But for the day-to-day trainer, things get started just a little but earlier. I was surprised to find out that they had been there before sunrise and were just getting things ready for that early call of 7:30. A trainer doesn’t go on vacations, get to sleep in, or call in sick. Those beautiful horses depend on them for everything in the world. Babies start off the same, and eventually grow to be self-reliant. A horse will always look in that feed tub, search for their water, and need a clean stall to live in. Yep, before you sign up for the job, be sure to read the fine print…

I was reading all of the post-race articles about the Derby, and stumbled across one of the best articles written this year. It was in the Handicapper’s Edge, and it made me take notice of a trainer I have watched for years. Here is an excerpt from the story about Shug McGaughey:

“Well, basically it’s the way I do it, and that’s the way I’m comfortable doing it. I do a lot from watch and feel. I’m not  a vacation guy. I like to be at the barn, and that’s where I’m comfortable, and  that’s where I want to be, and that’s the way I sort of monitor things. I like to watch the horses train, and if I don’t feel like they’re doing things exactly  the way I want them to do, then I basically don’t run them.

“And I also do know, because of the experience that I’ve had in watching, is that sometimes if you force a horse into a race and you make a mistake, it’s a big mistake, and I’ve also seen, just like with Point of Entry, having to scratch him today, when we run him back the next time, all that’ll be forgotten. Even though I was disappointed we had to, I know we did the right thing. But there’s always another race. There’s always a race down the road. You don’t have to make one at the expense of others, and that’s what I try to base myself on.”

“That’s the way — kind of the way I learned, and through mentors and through watching and learning myself. And I’m lucky I’ve got people that are patient with me and don’t try to, for lack of a better word, interfere, and give me the leniency to do what I want with them without any interference whatsoever.

“When we talk about the horses or racing stuff, we have a discussion, and that’s the extent of it. I mean, when Mr. Phipps called me yesterday and was talking about the rain and Point of Entry, I said, ‘Well, I’ll  have a little time after one race to come talk to you.’ He said, ‘You don’t have to come talk to me; it’s your call.’ And that’s the way it is.”

With that being said, I take back the words about teachers and mail carriers. Both jobs would kill me, and it takes a special person to take on the task. The sport of racing never ceases to amaze me. Just when I think I have heard most of the story, along comes the truth and I realize my education will never be finished. Kudos, Shug… I can’t wait to see what happens in these next five weeks!