11/02/2011 11:44AM

Breeders' Cup: Stacelita in the hands of a master's pupil

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Chad Brown takes a meeting with Zagora (left), winner of the Grade 1 Diana over the summer at Saratoga, and Stacelita, morning-line favorite for the BC Filly and Mare Turf.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There once was an equine pipeline running from Europe to California and pumping a steady stream of stakes-class grass horses into Bobby Frankel’s stable.

Frankel won six Breeders’ Cup races during his Hall of Fame career, two of them in the Filly and Mare Turf, with Starine in 2002 and Intercontinental in 2005. Small wonder Chad Brown had proper training tools at hand when Stacelita joined his string late this summer after spending most of her life in France.

Brown worked five years, from 2002 to 2007, as an assistant to Frankel, who died of cancer in November 2009 at age 68. Lessons from the gruff master came through observation: Frankel was running a high-powered racing stable, not an academy. But someone hungry for knowledge, with ears and eyes tuned to the right frequency, could get all the education he needed.

“Working for Bobby, I used to get these European horses out of quarantine and into my barn all the time,” Brown said this week on the Churchill backstretch. “Bobby would get a handle on them sooner or later.”

Brown got an immediate line on Stacelita. Transferred into his care in July, she has since won two of America’s top Grade 1 turf races, the Beverly D. and the Flower Bowl, and is the 2-1 morning-line favorite Friday in the Filly and Mare Turf

Brown, just 34, also appears to have a firm handle on an operation that has quickly sprouted in scope and substance. He has gone from 31 wins in 2008, his first full year at the helm, to 84 already in 2011, and he won his first Grade 1 race, the Diana at Saratoga, with Zagora in July. Starting with just 10 claiming horses when he left Frankel and went out on his own late in 2007, Brown now has a string, split into two divisions, that’s 100 strong.

“This is just about right what I wanted. I still kind of get to have a hand in a lot of different things going on in the stable. It’s not overwhelming to me. I wouldn’t want to have more than two divisions, but I did want to have two. I love it,” Brown said.

Brown, married with a child, grew up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. His family had nothing to do with racing, but he worked with Standardbreds as a young man. He attended Cornell University, graduating with a degree in animal science. And it shows. One feels the vibrations of Brown’s brain zipping along at speed. Simultaneously, he appears meticulous and organized, something Frankel was not, particularly when it came to teaching. Frankel could lash out at his workers. He had expectations, but might not have communicated them concisely.

“It was kind of an unorthodox way of teaching. Tough love, I guess,” Brown said. “Me being a more organized and structured person, I’d go about teaching a totally different way. But what he did worked.”

The Euro-imports often required work, even if they were accomplished overseas. “The transition – there are so many new things. It’s totally different over here. The way they train, the surface, the way the grooms treat them, everything. They all got it at different rates. Bobby had such a good feel for whether to go on or slow down,” said Brown.

Stacelita’s schedule did not permit patience. The mare, six times a Group or Grade 1 winner, is to make her final start in the Filly and Mare Turf, at least for owner Martin Schwartz, who plans to sell Stacelita privately later this year. Schwartz bought out Stacelita’s French breeder and co-owner after her 2010 season, and following her 2011 debut June 13 in France, he brought her to the United States. Stacelita had a bad trip finishing third as the favorite in the United Nations Handicap, after which she was turned over to Brown.

“Normally, we would allow a horse more time to get adjusted, but knowing she’d be retired at the end of this season, we had to put her on a crash course,” Brown said.

Younger imports with more malleable minds tend to adapt quicker to foreign experience. But 5-year-old Stacelita digested everything.

“From the first time we breezed her, she just did it. She’s a very intelligent horse. When she does something for the first time, she doesn’t think twice about it. And when you don’t want her to do something, she won’t do it.”

Aug. 13, Stacelita comfortably won the Beverly D., a major target for Schwartz. That race came about six weeks after the United Nations, exactly the time frame when European horses making their second U.S. start are susceptible to regression – the Euro-bounce.

“When you run a horse off a plane from Europe it’s extremely difficult to run them back the second time, but I wanted to win the Beverly D.,” said Schwartz. “The Euro horses tend to come over a little thinner, and here he is six, seven weeks later winning the race I wanted to win. So much for acclimatizing. [Brown] learned so much from Frankel.”

Schwartz, 66 and now a resident of Florida after spending much of his life in New York, has employed many trainers. Brown came recommended by owner Michael Dubb and European bloodstock agent Michel Zerolo, and Brown’s work with a trial horse named Electric Gold pleased Scwhartz enough that he gradually stepped up his support of the young trainer. Now, Brown has all his horses.

“I’ve had several trainers, and he is kind of in the mold of Allen Jerkens and Bobby Frankel in that he doesn’t piss your money away with vets,” Schwartz said. “His concern for the owner’s expenditures makes him a partner with you. Some of the more famous ones, I don’t think they really care. He’s not a hustler either – just honest.”

Schwartz has gone 0-5 with his Breeders’ Cup starters. It took Frankel 39 tries to win a Breeders’ Cup race. Brown, on the other hand, won the first Juvenile Fillies Turf, in 2008, with Maram, when nobody knew who he was. His three BC starters since haven’t come close, but it’s only a matter of time – Friday, for instance – before the closest thing to a Frankel protégé breaks through again.

“Bobby, he’s not a pat-you-on-the-head kind of guy,” Brown said, still stuck in the present tense. “He’s not going to hold your hand. He just put you in a position where you realize, over time, when you put it all together, what he was trying to do. In his way, he was teaching me.”