08/26/2010 12:02PM

Varner and crew give a boost to the over-50 crowd

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AUBURN, Wash. –Trainer Brad Varner and his crew do things the old-fashioned way. From the boss on down, everyone associated with his Emerald Downs racing operation is older than 50. They call themselves the AARP Barn, though Varner, 60, isn’t necessarily the retiring type.

Varner will send out Olmanslew to compete in the seventh race Saturday. The horse will be ridden by an apprentice, Leonel Camacho-Flores, so the trainer isn’t exclusionary by any means. But the rest of his hired hands are old pros. Assistant Bruce Samuels is 64, exercise rider Connie Doll is 51, pony girl Sue Batson is 50, and groom Mario Camacho is 54.

“Bruce has been around since the early ‘60s; he trained Turbulator for a time,” Varner said. “I turned 60 this year, and I gallop a lot of my own horses. Donnie Smith, the outrider here, gallops on his days off; he just turned 60, too. I train horses for a couple of 89-year-olds. Just to hang around the barn, you’ve got be 50 or older, pretty much.”

Varner is from Port Angeles, Wash., and lives in Sequim, on the Olympic peninsula. He started small, running horses at the Port Angeles fair before hooking up with a local breeder who needed someone to break colts. That job led Varner to Portland Meadows, and then to Longacres in 1975.

“I’ve always been a small stable, training for a few hometown people,” he said. “I’ve never gotten real big, but I’ve always been pretty competitive. I had a couple along the way who could run, and a couple of good ones who got away from me.”

Varner began the Emerald meeting with 11 horses. A few of his lesser lights have fallen by the wayside, leaving him with six to finish up. Polish Dollar, a four-time winner this summer, is the best of the bunch, and there’s a story attached.

“I bought his mother for a dollar and got a free breeding to the stud, Polish Gift, because I was boarding some mares for the owners,” Varner said. “I literally got Polish Dollar for a dollar.”

Varner entered the week with 9 wins from 49 starters. He figures Olmanslew, dropping from $7,500 to $3,500, has a reasonable shot Saturday.

“He turned out to be a horse who likes to be close to the front end, or he doesn’t give his best effort. If he can get away from the two hole, I think he’ll be all right.”