02/20/2015 4:08PM

Beyer: Brown’s patient approach both an asset, hindrance


Even before the 2014 Breeders’ Cup, racing fans recognized that Chad Brown is a fast-rising star in the Thoroughbred business, one with a magic touch handling grass runners. But it was at Santa Anita last fall that Brown certified that he is in the top echelon of his profession. He did something that only three other trainers have ever accomplished, winning three races in a single Breeders’ Cup. Those victories – all on grass – helped boost his horses’ year-end purse winnings to $15.3 million, second-best in the nation behind Todd Pletcher’s all-powerful stable.

Almost any ambitious young horseman would now be setting his sights on the biggest prizes in the sport – the Triple Crown races and the other major stakes that lead to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Yet Brown is surprisingly cautious about tackling the nation’s biggest races on dirt. He is certainly not lacking in ambition, but he is thoughtful about everything he does as a trainer.  

Brown grew up near Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and got hooked on the game by going to the races at Saratoga. He decided, after graduating from Cornell, that he wanted to be a Thoroughbred trainer, and he went on to a school of higher learning: the barn of trainer Bobby Frankel.

The Hall-of-Fame horseman could be blunt, nasty, stonily silent, intimidating. But as Brown worked for Frankel over a 5 1/2-year period, he received an extraordinary education. He saw that Frankel’s great assets were his patience, his willingness to adjust his methods, and his cold-eyed realism. Brown absorbed the lesson that you don’t manage horses with wishful thinking. “You have to be honest about everything you see,” Brown said. “You can’t lie to yourself.”

Brown left Frankel in 2007 to launch his own career and the next year saddled Maram to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. He was off and running. 

He established his reputation as a specialist with turfers, and the reputation fueled his success further. When owners wanted to ship European-based runners to North America, many sent their horses to Brown. Since 2011, the trainer has recorded 19 Grade 1 stakes victories, 18 on grass, 10 with horses who started their careers in Europe. He has won a single Grade 1 on dirt. The record is so lopsided that it’s fair to ask whether Brown is a one-dimensional trainer.

His statistics indicate otherwise. Over the last five years, he has the same winning rate on dirt and turf: a lofty 26 percent. But he clearly has a special affinity for turf runners.

“Training them is not just a matter of getting them to run as fast as they can and picking the right races for them,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of teaching with turf horses. They have to be taught to obey the rider. They have to be taught to use their [acceleration] when you ask them. You have to have a lot of patience with turf horses.” 

U.S. dirt racing is a wholly different game – one in which training is indeed a matter of getting them to run as fast as they can. While turf races typically feature a slow early pace and a strong acceleration at the end, dirt races are run hard from start to finish. Horses have to be trained hard to be fit for them. Moreover, any colt with Triple Crown ambitions has to be trained hard early in his career to be well prepared by the spring of his 3-year-old season. Brown may have learned from Frankel that patience is a supreme virtue for a horseman, but this is not necessarily so in the Triple Crown. Frankel was 0 for 8 in the Kentucky Derby. It is the aggressive trainers such as D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert who excel in the 3-year-old classics.

Brown initially focused on grass because owners sent him European turf runners or domestic horses with turf-oriented pedigrees. Now he has a more diverse stable. In 2013, he sent out Normandy Invasion to a fourth-place finish in the Derby. Many handicappers thought the colt had run the best race at Churchill Downs and that he could come back to win the Preakness. But Normandy Invasion was not a robust animal, and he had nagging physical problems, and Brown didn’t send him to Pimlico. Was he being properly prudent, or did he miss an opportunity that a trainer such as Lukas would have seized?

This year, Brown nominated 24 colts to the Triple Crown, and the list was filled with expensive pedigrees that can win U.S. classic races – with colts by formidable sires of dirt runners such as Tapit, Street Cry, Medaglia d’Oro, and Smart Strike. One of Brown’s youngsters, Leave the Light On, won the important Remsen Stakes as a 2-year-old before being sidelined by an ankle injury, but 13 of his 24 nominees hadn’t made their racing debuts by the start of February, too late to have a plausible chance of reaching the Triple Crown. Was he being too patient with them?

Brown understands that he needs to find the right balance between patience and aggressiveness to prepare horses for the nation’s major races on dirt. “I’m not a guy to push horses, but I don’t want to be too conservative,” he said. “I think the answer lies in the middle. I want to give horses a chance to get there [to the Triple Crown], but I want to have an eye on the big picture – winning races when the horses are 4 or 5.” 

In fact, he may find that the best strategy is closer to the aggressiveness of a trainer like Lukas than to the prudence of his mentor, Frankel. At the age of 36, Brown has plenty of time to work out the right answer.

Ó2015 The Washington Post

Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Seems like most articles end up some how with the Derby. Charlie Whittingham , after winning with Ferdinand in 1986, said , " If I knew it was this big of a deal, I'd of come here more often ." Also Howard Keck the owner didn't have a nickel bet at $38 bucks ?
Forego137 More than 1 year ago
Nice write up on Brown, very informative and it shed some light on the up and comer. Thanks Andy
Vince Piscitelli More than 1 year ago
Nice write-up and well made points. Vince P
Richard Cowles More than 1 year ago
Did not even have to read the garble...headline says it all.As usual you attempt to fill the airwaves or reading media with your so called x-pert opinion.And that's called playing safe.Great job...
John Murray More than 1 year ago
Thank you Andy for filling out a needed backgrounder on Chad Brown. When younger trainers become successful nowadays, there are two possible reasons and it is comforting to know that Mr Brown has evolved by the respected route of mentoring, patience and delayed gratification.
russell More than 1 year ago
Bob- I do agree with you but the old adage is you have to run them when they are good. If that means 2 yold, early 3 yold, or later you have to cash your chips. Very few stay at the top for more than a year. There will always be horses like Read The Footnotes, High Yield, Upstart, etc, that have no shot at the Derby and are trying for the next 3 yold jackpot only.
Bob More than 1 year ago
The Triple Crown is and always has been over-rated. The campaign that results when a horse is in pursuit of the TC has ruined far more good horses than it has created. Just look at the record of Lukas and Baffert, neither of whom is known for their ability to train turf runners or older handicap horses. Game on Dude is one recent exception from the Baffert barn but it is worth noting that he was unraced as a 2 year old and as such even an aggressive trainer like Baffert would be hard pressed to have pushed him hard to make a serious run at the TC. Likewise, most of Lukas's success with older runners has been with female horses, which as everyone knows, are not typically campaigned for the TC. Among those fillies that DWL did campaign in the TC, most had relatively short-lived racing careers, including Winning Colors, the Kentucky Derby winner that was trained by Lukas whose racing career end after her four year-old campaign ended with 2 wins from 7 starts. Quite frankly, I would rather have Chad Brown or Bobby Frankel training my million dollar horse even if it meant I never won a Triple Crown race!
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Good stuff, bob
Héctor Lebrón More than 1 year ago
I agree. I also think too much emphasis is placed in the triple crown and 3 year old races in general. So much so, that the many terrific older horses are not truly appreciated.
mike More than 1 year ago
Wow! What a different tune you're singing Hector. Regarding "terrific older horses" not appreciated all you've done is bash Wise Dan like he's nothing. You're a joke!
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
A voice of reason! I am sure that Midway Cat would have preferred a more conservative trainer. The Triple Crown trail is a gristmill for young talent, made worse by this ridiculous point system. Trainers will be running the snot out of developing three year olds in order to get the owners to the Big Dance. So ridiculous. Please, B and C list "celebrities", stay home the first Saturday in May! We need less emphasis on one race.
michael More than 1 year ago
Totally two different worlds. Turf horses and Classic Triple Crown races for 140 years. Turf racing seems more natural, but the finest three year olds at the prime peak of their racing lives is infinitely more special than turf specialists. And triple crown winners especially rare.
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
Many good/great trainers do not care to use the "Lucas/Pletcher storming Normandy Beach" approach to winning the Triple Crown races .The breakdown of Union City in the 93 Preakness after running up the track at Churchill still sickens me.
mike More than 1 year ago
Agreed! And i can't stand Lukas/Pletcher.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Lucas will do anything to be relevant. Attend the opening of an envelope.
michael More than 1 year ago
D. Wayne Lukas is in the HOF for a reason, he is an exceptional horse trainer who has forgotten more than you will ever know about horses.
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
He is in the HOF for the great horses he trained to greatness and there were many.But for every great one there was a "Union City" that could not take the strain of the Lucas machine. Any fan that was around then knows it was sink or swim.Many sank.Eventually the big clients headed for the lifeboats tired of writing fat checks and recieving the phone calls every owner dreads.
mike More than 1 year ago
That's exactly correct. Imagine if he trained Zenyatta. Thank God he didn't. He's all about himself.
mike More than 1 year ago
Really? Tell you what I know Michael,he cared more about his bottom line than horses welfare.
russell More than 1 year ago
Not so sure I agree Andy- How are "aggressive" trainers like Todd Pletcher doing in the Ky Derby? How about 1 for 30. And he has the highest priced yearlings in the world every year. Meanwhile a trainer like Michael Matz who's not an aggressive trainer won the Derby with Barbaro. Same can be said about Shug who won with Orb. Ultimately the horse has to tell you when he's 100%.
mike More than 1 year ago
Exactly! The horse takes you,not the other way around. How many horses does Pletcher enter in the Derby each year? A million?
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
Beyer doesnt understand how much the game has changed with lasix and meds/peds. When top twelve two year olds cant make it to the triple crown races. When all of the best older dirt horses are sidelined to make remaining three year olds look good. The american dirt horses careers are short compared to foreign turf horses. Why is baffert waiting so long to put american pharoah back on the derby road ? So he has a chance of not getting hurt before the derby.
mikeg More than 1 year ago
I am pretty sure Beyer understands that!
mike More than 1 year ago
Really? I'm not