12/16/2016 7:48AM

Life-changing year for Kentucky trainer Aaron West

JJ Zamaiko Photography
Jocker Justice pokes his head in front to win the Cleveland Kindergarten Stakes at Thistledown, giving trainer Aaron West the first stakes win of his career.

It’s been a breakthrough year for Aaron West, but the 28-year-old trainer isn’t about to get all high on himself.

“There have been more people to help me in this business than I could ever pay back,” said West.

West entered this week of action at Turfway Park with 50 wins in 2016, a career high. In August, he not only won his first stakes, with an Ohio-bred colt named Jocker Justice, but he and his wife, Ashley, became new landowners. They purchased Cain’s Thoroughbred training center in Russell Springs, Ky., from the estate of trainer Joe Cain and his wife, Peggy.

“Joe was like a father figure to me,” said West. “People ask me if I’m going to rename the property, and I say no. It’s the respect I have for Joe and Peggy and what unbelievably good people they were.”

:: Enjoy news and analysis from DRF? Get handicapping analysis, real-time coverage, special reports, and charts. Unlock access with DRF Plus.

Cain died in March 2013 at age 57 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He logged tens of thousands of miles a year vanning racehorses to and from his farm, located in the southeast region of Kentucky, winning at a solid percentage. His career peaked in 2003 when Private Horde won the Grade 2 Vanderbilt at Saratoga. Peggy died last year.

West grew up near Richmond, Ind., where his grandfather and uncle dabbled in racing. He was hooked early, eventually going to work as a stablehand for Cain. Intentionally or not, he and Ashley are keeping the Cains’ legacy alive by living on the 45-acre farm while also maintaining a string of horses at the track, which at this time of year is Turfway in northern Kentucky.

“My brother Ethan looks after the horses on the track while Ashley and I run the farm,” said West. “We’ve got about 30 horses in active training and another 15 yearlings we’re breaking. There’s a lot of road work from Russell Springs, but we love it here.”

West began training on his own in 2012 and has won with 115 of his first 509 starters for a 22 percent strike rate. At the Turfway holiday meet, which runs through Dec. 31, he was in contention for leading trainer by winning with four of his first 15 starters. He said he owes his early success to his clients, employees, and more experienced trainers who showed him the ropes, including Cain, Tom Amoss, Phil Sims, and others.

“I’m extremely grateful to all of them,” he said.

◗ Turfway will run just three days next week (Wednesday to Friday), with Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 24-25) dark because of Christmas. Racing resumes Dec. 28.