11/23/2011 3:49PM

Q&A: Tom Amoss

Barbara D. Livingston

A member of the Fair Grounds Hall of Fame since 1999, he is an eight-time leading trainer at that track, which opened its 2011-12 meeting on Thanksgiving Day. He also works as an analyst for TVG during the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup.

Birthdate: Nov. 17, 1961, in New Orleans, La.

Family: wife, Colleen; daughters, Ashley and Hayley

Got into racing because . . . I started going to the Fair Grounds at a young age, 12 years old. I really enjoyed the art of handicapping, going through the Racing Form, deciding on a horse, and then seeing the horse win. It was addictive. My first trip to the backside was eye-opening. Up to that point, I thought they just put a saddle on the horse, and then the fastest horse won. I had no idea what else went into it. Once I got to experience that, I was hooked. I had ridden Quarter Horses and pleasure horses, and when I first went to the track I probably weighed about 110 pounds, so I had thoughts of being a jockey. But I went through a growth spurt, so it was going to be training or nothing at all.

Who were your mentors? I worked for Jack Van Berg or was in his system all through college and just after college because I then went to work for Frank Brothers, who was a Van Berg disciple. I worked for Jack all through college, and then worked for Brothers. I spent a year in New York with John Parisella, and a couple of years as an assistant to Larry Robideaux. I also worked as a vet assistant, where I learned a lot about working on legs and the various problems you have to deal with. Doing all those things, I jokingly refer to it has having gone to grad school. I took a lot from all the people I worked with, and, at the end, created my own style.

Being a native of New Orleans, how important is Fair Grounds to the fabric of the community? Everybody in New Orleans knows that a Thanksgiving tradition is to go to Fair Grounds. It’s the opening of the race season, but it’s also the start of the winter holidays in New Orleans. There are some families that only go to the races once a year, and it’s on opening day, Thanksgiving Day, because it’s been a family tradition for years. So as to the fabric of the community, it’s hugely important. It was threatened by Hurricane Katrina. A lot of New Orleans traditions came back – the track, the Saints. The community really rallied behind the track. We take a lot of pride in things here. The track is special.

Because of that, is it more satisfying for you to win a race, or a training title, at Fair Grounds? I have five brothers, four of whom still live here, and my parents live here, so it’s extremely gratifying to do well and have them see it. It’s the racetrack that I’ll always refer to as home.

What are your expectations for your stable during this meet? I hope to have an excellent meet. I’ve got some nice horses that have run already, and some good ones that have yet to start. Shared Property we stopped on, but he’ll come back at 3, and I think he could be a very good horse. We could have pushed on to the Breeders’ Cup, but we decided to have a 3-year-old. He should be back in January.

You’ve always had a high win percentage. Is that something you strive to achieve? As it stands now, with some of the stables as large as they are, winning training titles is probably not something I’m going to do anymore. So I’ve challenged everyone at the stable to carry a high win percentage. We want to place the horses correctly, and fortunately I’ve got owners that understand the game.

You’ve done work as a journalist, doing commentary for TVG at major events like the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup. How do you like it? I love doing it, but I love doing it part-time. It takes a tremendous amount of preparation. At the Breeders’ Cup, there’s 170 horses, and you’ve got to know every one. It’s made me admire the journalists who do it full-time, whether for TVG or anyone else.”

Isn’t one of your brothers a journalist? Yes, he (Jim) is the editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Did that give you some appreciation for journalism? My mother is an author of children’s books, and my dad’s job involved a lot of speaking and writing. He was the CEO of Lykes Brothers Steamship Company. So my foundation is English and literature.

You don’t sugarcoat your answers when asked to evaluate workouts. Since you’ve been on both sides, as a trainer and a broadcaster, how do other trainers react if you don’t like how one of their horse’s worked? I’ve been doing this about 10 or 12 years now, but early on I criticized the workout of a horse trained by Bob Baffert. He said to me, “You need to remember that when you say something, everybody hears it.” I took that to heart. I do say what I feel, but I back it up with evidence of what we are seeing.

New Orleans has been through some tough times from Hurricane Katrina, and it had a direct impact on you. You lost your home. How difficult was it for you and your family to go through that? We had just moved back down here from Louisville with the kids. They were in school a week, and we lost our home here. But the school in Louisville that they attended, it called immediately and said they could come back for that semester free of charge. That’s just an example of the kind of outreach that there was from the entire nation toward New Orleans. The nation came to our rescue. We were lucky. We had a place to turn to. We rebuilt. Our house was the first on the block to be rebuilt. I’d leave for work in the morning, and when I’d walk out to my car, there weren’t any lights anywhere. It felt like we were out in the country, but we were in the middle of the city. It was a strange feeling.

Do you feel like the city is coming back? People from New Orleans take a lot of pride in New Orleans. We know New Orleans is not perfect, but it’s a great city. Its resiliency has been amazing. You still see a few remnants from the hurricane, but overall, I think the city is stronger, and it has come back even better.

You turned 50 last week. How did that feel? It was fine. I didn’t really have a problem turning 50. As it got closer, I did a lot of reflection, and I feel like I’ve developed a closer relationship with God. I’ve always had one, but it’s gotten stronger.

You are a graduate of LSU, which is currently ranked number one in college football. What would mean more to you, a national title for the Tigers or the Super Bowl win by the Saints? I train for some Saints guys. They’ve got a horse or two at the track. I hope they’re not going to send their horses to another trainer, but for me, LSU is more important. It’s my passion and my love. It would mean so much if they won a national championship. Both my girls go there. Ashley’s a junior, Hayley’s a freshman. Both are journalism majors. Ashley works for the athletic department. It would be great.

Best horse trained? Heritage of Gold. She was a multiple Grade 1 winner, and was third twice in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She was so easy to train. She had no physical problems, and was so reliable.

Best horse seen? The first Kentucky Derby I went to was in 1979, when I was a senior in high school. Spectacular Bid, he was a standout. He was a great horse and probably didn’t get his due, because he came around just after Seattle Slew and Affirmed. How spoiled were we then?

Hobbies? I enjoy playing golf, but I don’t have enough time for it. I spend a lot of time studying and reading about the stock market. It influences business and politics on a worldwide level. Learning about it is never-ending, like training horses.

Future ambitions? A lot of people my age make a good living, but don’t like what they do. I’m blessed to have done something I enjoy for a long time, and if I can continue to do that, that’s all I could ask for.