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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, April 23, 2023 —  Over the weekend, the news that Ron Faucheux was giving up his trainer’s license to become a jockey agent took many by complete surprise.

Not only was Faucheux the leading trainer at the recently concluded Fair Grounds race meet, but it was also his third straight training title at New Orleans’ signature racetrack.

Fair Grounds may not be New York or Kentucky, but it is a major American venue and its purses are competitive with competitors at a similar level of competition in other states.

Faucheux’s 42 Fair Grounds winners were good enough for $1.3 million in earnings this past season. Faucheux has been a high percentage trainer from the first day he started training in 2009. This year, his win ratio was over 23 percent.

But his day rate—the fee trainers charge their owners, excluding veterinary expenses—was reported to be $75 per day, per horse.

While thoroughbred expenses are virtually the same everywhere, top trainers charge approximately twice that amount. Out of this comes salaries, insurance, workmen’s compensation, taxes, and the like. There is a lot more to training horses than simply caring for the animals.

Faucheux’s high win percentage has attracted it share of side-eyes, and he did himself no favors when he mentioned that a return to training would be after monitoring the rules and regulations as proscribed by HISA. Federal oversight of racing is now set to begin in July.

There is no question that making a living as a horseman is extremely difficult in light of ever-increasing expenses in the face of flat revenue streams for a vast majority of horsemen.

As most fans know, the best horses are divided among two handfuls of trainers who corner the good-horse, top-owner market. It is commonplace for those trainers to enter multiple horses in a race while less affluent horsemen struggle to find one that can compete at a high level.

The Kentucky Derby, with 20 entrants, and Oaks, with 14 fillies set to line up, is less than a fortnight away. Of those 34 stalls, nearly one third will be occupied by horses trained Brad Cox and Todd Pletcher, seven and four starters respectively.. Owners follow the money and win percentages.

If a perennial leading trainer at a major venue finds it impossible to make the model work, what chance does any trainer have, even one who has developed Grade 1 winners and champions?

If Faucheux was an aha minute, learning that Jimmy Jerkens needs to move his tack to Saudi Arabia was an OMG moment.

Jerkens is, of course, the son of legendary Hall of Famer H. Allen Jerkens. I have been privileged to call him a friend since my early days at Newsday in the late 70s, long before he went out on his own 26 years ago.

The history books show that Jerkens developed a Breeders’ Cup Mile winner, $2-million earner Artie Schiller, and the $3-million earner Shaman Ghost, bred, owned, and raced by Frank Stronach.

Of course, there were also two G1 Travers, the G1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and G1 Metropolitan Mile with Corinthian, the G1 Woodward, G1 Derbies in Florida and California, and a Big ‘Cap, too.

Jerkens even showed a little of that ‘Giant Killer’ magic with New York-bred champion Effinex, who won two Suburban Handicaps and also finished second to American Pharoah in the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

To date, Jerkens has won 846 races from 4,249 starters, 78 stakes, with a win percentage just shy of 20%.  Those winners amounted to more than $61-million in earnings.

Jerkens’ last stakes win came in the Sir Shackleton this winter at Gulfstream Park; Weyburn is scheduled to run back in the G3 Westchester in New York on Derby day.

“Except for a few winters in Florida when we had the horses, we were based in New York year-round,” said Jerkens by phone Sunday morning. “Winning at 20% in New York is pretty good.”

What Jerkens failed to mention were all the winners he trained for his legendary father’s winter division in New York before venturing out on his own.

“It’s going to be an adjustment, that’s for sure. [Wife] Shirley and I were there for five days at Easter time. We walked around a beautiful mall and it was all very nice. We dressed like Americans and were treated very well by the people there. That was nice but I still had doubts.

“As a matter of fact, on the plane going back my feeling was that I would stay in New York, but when I got back to the barn and looked down the shed and all the stalls except 10 were empty, it was very depressing. I had amassed a lot of debt ,and I knew I had to provide for my family.

“Shirley was given plane tickets and she can make two trips a year. I can get home for the holidays or whenever there’s a break in the schedule. I’ve got lots to learn and I’m looking forward to that opportunity.

“They made me a great offer, a two-year contract with salary, commissions, and bonuses for any stakes we win. We’ll have 50 or 60 horses. They pay all expenses so there’s no worry there. I’ll be going to the sales.

“Prince Faisal bin Khalid Al Saud wants to race in America and internationally. We would love to return to New York with horses that can compete at a high level.

“Kairan McLaughlin called to wish me luck and said you’ll like it there once you acclimate to the different racing seasons, and that when he worked for Sheikh Mohammed in Dubai it was nice not to worry about bills, just training the horses.”

And that’s all Jimmy was ever interested in, training horses. This apple fell right next to the tree. Jimmy Jerkens is an old school horseman; no social media, no self-promotion. He just wanted to be the best horsemen he could be.

Proven success was no safeguard against insolvency for these prolific trainers. What the immediate future holds for an overwhelmingly majority of their colleagues is unknown and at once not very promising.

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4 Responses

  1. “I knew I had to provide for my family.”

    THAT should be the priority regardless of profession. My advice to a young person in the 21st Century is countries are like cities, towns, states, provinces, etc. Lines on a map. You owe no loyalty to any geopolitical subdivision. If leaving the US is in your long term best interests, then go to the place where you have the best chance of attaining the highest quality of life.

    Horse Racing is in a position where the best long-term opportunities are outside the US and Canada. Relocation to a country where those opportunities exist is a smart decision.

  2. Well reasoned response Dan, although IMO boundary lines are important as it impacts quality of life and, sometimes, life itself.

    Having said that, it’s family first!

    Hope Jimmy does well and comes back to New York with a small barnful of runners capable of competing at our highest levels. After all, he’s been there and done that–very well in fact. That’s what makes this situation so disheartening…

  3. My advice to a young person would be extremely simple: immerse yourself in A.I. knowledge. It is going to change the world in ways the iphone could not even begin to relate to. Think about this – an AI company will be able to feed in all the Beatles catalogue, and come up with endless new and great Beatles songs. And this applies to any music catalogue. And it applies to everything; just using music as an easy to comprehend example. Hell, start recording as much convo with loved ones as you can. It will later be used so that you will never lose them – you will be able to converse with them whenever you miss them, and the conversation will be in their voice, their vocabulary and word composition style, their sense of humor etc. It will do wonders for dealing with the grief of death.

    I can go on all day about this, so i will stop rambling and just say this: AI tech, AI law, AI Anti-Scam security etc. whatever you are looking into, study, watch videos, and read up on AI. period. It is the future of EVERYTHING

  4. And, Doc, AI can scan all my columns here and write a new one, using my language, popular phrases, et al. AI is the good news and the bad news and parameters must be set by every country in the world–together. Good luck with that one, right?

    You are correct, AI saturation is inevitable.

    But, as for Computer Assisted Wagering, this is a relatively easy fix if the industry has the will to risk taking a short-term haircut. But if it wants to take measures to help insure long-term viability of the sport and its fans, it needs to act.

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