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Thursday, April 11, 2013


Break Up the CEO Trainers


At the end of March, uber-trainer Steve Asmussen notched his 6,418th career training victory to surpass Jack Van Berg. There’s probably nothing stopping Asmussen from winning 10,000 races.

But it raises a question, a question which includes several other trainers, as well as Asmussen: who really deserves credit for a win?

How many of those 6,418 winners did Asmussen leg-up himself? Early in his career, probably all of them, but when did that stop? At 1,000? 2,000? 3,000?

How many base hits would A-Rod have this year if Robinson Cano put on A-Rod’s jersey? Sounds silly, right? But that’s essentially how the CEO trainer gets credit for a win.

Unless, of course, the CEO trainer has Hermione Granger’s Time Turner. And, let’s face it, more power to him if he does.

Though a trainer may not be present, his brand is present. His assistant trainers are his proxies. Most of these proxies, though in touch via phone or email with the CEO trainer, are the ones doing the hands-on training, the legging-up.

While their hands are on the horses, the CEO trainer is on the phone … with owners … being a customer service representative.

The CEO trainer is undoubtedly sharp. Any time I leave a conversation with one I’m amazed to the degree he’s able to recall every horse in his string, no matter its location in the country.

But I do have a problem with trainers barns turning into Wal-Marts. They pop up here. A string here. Another string here.

And what do these Wal-Marts do? They steal business away from very capable Mom and Pops who can’t necessarily compete on a macro scale.

The real paradox here is that Wal-Mart’s prices tend to be lower because of its massive supply. CEO trainers aren’t undercutting the Mom and Pops, quite the opposite really.

The elevated price weeds out a certain customer. After all that’s all owners are.

Since the CEO trainer has swept over the nation, it puts the Mom and Pops at a competitive disadvantage. Could it be these owners don’t know or don’t understand that the CEO trainer has his hands on a very select few of his athletes?

What’s the solution? If a trainer doesn’t physically saddle his horse for a race, he doesn’t get full credit for a win. Otherwise, to me, and I assume to others, it’s misleading. Underneath the trainer stats should be his assistant trainers, how many they’ve started and their results. This helps just about everybody involved.

1. It helps the assistant trainer get some notoriety. These men and women live in the shadows, sometimes quite literally. This way they get their due.

2. It helps owners and fans realize the cogs involved. Maybe a potential owner won’t be as impressed by the CEO trainer and, as a result, give a Mom and Popper a chance he may not otherwise garner.

3. If the CEO trainer is getting less credit, he may prune down his barn thus spreading out some of the equine talent.

4. This will deflate the winning stats. The CEO trainer-era is like the steroid era in baseball, to some extent. The winning stats are so inflated but, as I’ve said, they’re misleading. The CEO trainer gets credit for all the wins with little involvement.

In this sense it’s squashing the little guy. This is the type of competitive imbalance that does a disservice to everyone involved.

I’ve written about having a horse cap, one that would give some genetically gifted horses to trainers who would otherwise not get the chance because their names aren’t lit up like a Vegas casino.

Trainers put in long hours and deserve to reap the fruits of that effort. But it’s time to backslide and deflate the vast extent and vast credit CEO trainers seize in the win column.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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