2012 Kentucky Derby Trainers
by Trevor Whenham - 5/2/2012
The Kentucky Derby usually features an intriguing cast of characters among the trainers. This year is no exception. Some of the highlights:
Baffert brings two horses to the race this year, but the one everyone will be paying attention to is potential favorite Bodemeister — named after Baffert’s son Bode. The other is Liaison, a talented colt who has yet to find his stride.
Baffert is, in my eyes, as good as there is in the game right now. He has won the Derby three times, the Preakness five, and the Belmont once. The last two years he has had strong contenders in Lookin at Lucky and Midnight Interlude, but Bodemeister is on a whole different level.
The Derby is notoriously difficult for front-runners to win, and Bodemeister loves the lead. The good news on that front, though, is that Baffert wired the race in 2002 with War Emblem so he knows how to handle the style. Adding to the stakes for Baffert is that he suffered a heart attack in Dubai in late March and is lucky to be alive. His year has been strong, and that setback only seems to have strengthened his resolve.
D. Wayne Lukas
Lukas, a former assistant basketball coach at Wisconsin back in the day, is a living legend. The 76 year old has won the Derby and the Belmont four times each and the Preakness five times. No wins have come since 2000, though, and Lukas has scaled back his business dramatically from where it once was.
He hasn’t had a horse at the highest levels for a long time, and he still doesn’t here — Optimizer only got into the Kentucky Derby field because Mark Valeski was withdrawn the day before entries were due.
Lukas will be hard-pressed to win this race, but there is still a very interesting storyline here — fellow Derby trainers Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin and Mike Maker are not only top trainers in their own right, but all are also former Lukas assistants.
Pletcher is like the Yankees of horse training. His barn is massive, his owners are very rich, he wins everything, and if you aren’t a fan he’s pretty easy to cheer against.
He failed to win the Derby with his first 24 entries despite having several elite contenders in that group. That streak ended in 2010 with Super Saver.
This year he brings two runners — the unbeaten Gemologist, and El Padrino, who is coming off a disappointing race at the Florida Derby.
Matz has an interesting past. He is one of the most successful show jumpers in American history, and he was the heroic survivor of a tragic plane crash that killed 111 in 1989.
Racing fans know him best, though, as the trainer of Barbaro in 2006. That story gripped the nation — even if it didn’t end nicely.
Now he’s back in the Derby with a gem of a horse. Union Rags will contend with Bodemeister for favoritism in this race. He’s coming off a disappointing third-place finish in the Florida Derby, but there is no question about his talent, his breeding is solid, and Matz will unquestionably have him ready.
Matz trains in a way that is as European as it is American, but it is certainly effective.
O’Brien, who trains in Ireland, is the private trainer for Coolmore Stud, the largest breeding operation in the world. He has no shortage of talented horses to choose from, and he has won almost every race there is at some point.
Like so many other foreign owners and trainers, though, he has had no luck breaking through in the American classics.
This year he brings Daddy Long Legs, the winner of the UAE Derby in Dubai. His only time on dirt was in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs last year, and he was a brutal 12th. I suspect the European futility will continue, but if anyone is good enough to get it done it’s O’Brien.
Motion is the closest thing to European success in the Derby. He was born and raised in England and has a very British approach to training, but his training career has been in the U.S. — mainly in Maryland.
He’s had some success along the way, but nothing like last year. That’s when he took a horse, Animal Kingdom, who had never run on dirt and somehow turned him into a Derby champion. It was a masterful job of preparation, and it lifted the shy Motion into the spotlight.
This year he’s back with Went the Day Well, and the similarities to Animal Kingdom are eerie. The ownership of both horses is the same, and both horses headed to the Derby after winning the Spiral Stakes on Turfway Park’s synthetic surface. At least this horse has run on dirt.
I don’t think Trinniberg is going to win the Kentucky Derby. He has never run more than seven furlongs, runs and is bred like a sprinter, and he will be challenged by a very fast early pace in this race.
If he does win, though, it will be a heck of a story.
The horse is trained by Bisnath Parboo. He trained in his native Trinidad, has owned horses in the U.S. since 1982, but has only been training here in 2007. He has earned just over two million dollars in winnings in his career. By contrast, Bob Baffert has won over five million dollars already this year.
Parboo has a fiercely loyal owner for Trinniberg and the rest of his stable, though — his son Shivananda.
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