07/14/2010 5:15PM

Vann Belvoir still learning the training game as he goes along


Vann Belvoir freely admits two things about training. Despite his success, he’s still constantly progressing on a learning curve, and his success breeds more success in the form of more horses, more owners, and better horses.

Success, Belvoir understands, doesn’t come easily. It’s a product of hard work and constantly working to improve.

“You’ve gotta have horsemanship in this game,” he said, but he’s quick to add that success is the result of a team effort that includes exercise riders, grooms, owners, and jockeys, in addition to the trainer.

Although he is still learning, Belvoir said the foundation of his success began in childhood.

“I had one of the best teachers in the world in my dad,” he said, referring to Howard Belvoir, who is also a trainer.

Some of the lessons he learned from his father he put to use in his brief but successful riding career that saw him win 1,347 races before his 5-foot-9 stature and weight problems led to his retirement.

As a rider, Belvoir was one of Northern California kingpin Russell Baze’s perennial challengers, and in Emerald Downs’s inaugural season he set a record with 148 victories that lasted 11 years. He is still Emerald’s all-time leader based on winning percentage.

“My dad always instilled in me how much time and money it takes to get a horse to the races – from sales, breaking, shin bucks, and sickness,” Belvoir said. “As a jockey, every start counts. A lot of riders don’t realize that.

“Jockeys are competitive, but sometimes they ease up if they see they aren’t going to win. A lot of jockeys don’t understand the importance of even a third- or a fourth-place check.”

Belvoir understood the difference between abusing a tired horse and continuing on to get the barn some kind of paycheck. That capacity landed him in the best barns in Northern California.

Even as a jockey, Belvoir was learning about training, riding for trainers such as Jerry Hollendorfer, Greg Gilchrist, and Lonnie Arterburn.

“I’d watch how they trained their horses,” Belvoir said. “They had different styles. When I rode, I knew what type of horse I was on and how they trained that type of horse.”

After setting a riding record at Emerald’s first meeting in 1996, Belvoir retired and became the leading trainer at a short Emerald Downs winter meeting, winning 16 of 50 races.

In one sense, training is easy, Belvoir jokes. “Put the best horse into the easiest race.”

But training, much like baseball, is a game of failure.

In baseball, a hitter who fails 70 percent of the time is a star. In training, even stars fail nearly 80 percent of the time.

But that doesn’t deter Belvoir, who keeps working and learning.

“I’ve gained experience traveling around the country,” he said. “I’ve learned from a lot of different trainers that there are different ways of training horses. I’ve watched top horsemen a lot to see what they do.”

Belvoir decided to settle in at Emerald Downs last year rather than travel so much. He wound up the 2009 meet’s leading trainer by percentage, winning with 25 percent of his starters.

He is at or near 20 percent in virtually every category whether bringing runners back off layoffs, stretching them out or shortening them up, adding or taking off blinkers.

One thing Belvoir realizes is that “you’ve got to have horses. You have to have enough horses to replace the ones you lose.”

Belvoir enjoys the claiming game, trying to find the horse that he can make just a bit better, such as current stakes stars Peaceful Reign and Elusive Schemes, whom he claimed.

He wins 21 percent off a claim and 21 percent in the second start off a claim.

“You try to get a horse you think will improve,” he said. “You try something here and there and find out if they can improve or not.”

But he also likes young horses, winning 43 percent with debut runners and 42 percent with 2-year-olds, such as first-time 2-year-old starters Ms Moscow Mattie and Wings of Pegasus over the Fourth of July weekend.

“I’m a hands-on trainer,” he said. “I enjoy breaking and teaching horses. And you really must find injuries before they become problems.”

Both in turning around claimers and developing 2-year-olds, horsemanship is involved.

And horsemanship is the cornerstone of Belvoir’s success, even as he continues to learn.


No Flies On Doodle 4F Stakes 6th 67-78-82

11-7-2-0 $163,052

Peaceful Reign 4G Stakes 4th 82-90-94

9-3-1-4 $86,475

Elusive Schemes 5G Stakes 5th 70-72-65

20-5-4-1 $80,670

Forener 3G Stakes 5th 67-71-82

4-3-0-0 $30,950

Wings of Pegasus 2F Mdn 1st --

1-1-0-0 $9,350

Ms Moscow Mattie 2F Mdn Clm 1st --

1-1-0-0 $6,325