A favorite subject of racing photographers, Cherie DeVaux has become well-known for her emotional journey with the iron-hearted champion Lady Eli. The mare won the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks in 2015 but stepped on a nail when she was leaving the test barn. Lady Eli developed laminitis, and her chances of survival seemed slim.
DeVaux spent hours treating the mare's condition. When Lady Eli finally began to improve, and later returned to racing's highest levels, DeVaux would meet her at the winner's circle with an exuberant kiss that was often caught on camera.
Displays of emotion aren't actually common for the long-time assistant to trainer Chad Brown. DeVaux is typically very steady, dependably calm, and pragmatic. Her brain is like a computer, it seems, with facts about each and every horse in her care filed where they are easily accessible, as well as endless information about equine nutrition, medicine, exercise schedules and grand plans.
Those characteristics will be game-changers as 36-year-old DeVaux takes on her latest challenge: starting her own training business.
“Well, I'm certainly not getting any younger,” laughed DeVaux good-naturedly. “I've always had a desire to pursue my own goals, and this feels like the right time.”
She made the announcement via social media on Sunday, but it had been in the back of her mind for as long as she can remember.
“You know, nobody in this business is going to sit you down and teach you,” DeVaux said. “You have to learn by actively watching. I have always asked a hundred different questions of anyone who will listen! I also really admire Chad's ability to run such a big company, for sure, but also the way he develops a plan for each horse and is so capable of adjusting that plan when needed. That has been really important for me to learn.”
Growing up in racing, Devaux's early education was on the backside of harness tracks in upstate New York. Her father and two of her brothers both trained and drove harness horses, so it was natural for her to develop a competitive nature at an early age.
DeVaux went away to college in South Florida but stayed close to horses with some barrel racing and rodeo experience. The pre-med major eventually missed home and changed schools back to New York. She started hot walking at Saratoga and was instantly hooked on Thoroughbreds.
Trainer Chuck Simon had worked for DeVaux's father in his early days at the track and offered her a job riding. She didn't gallop for very long but left school to follow this new dream as an assistant trainer.
Six years later, DeVaux was ready for another change. She had met Chad Brown while he worked under Bobby Frankel, and the upstart young trainer offered DeVaux a chance to come back to New York. She jumped on it.
DeVaux worked with Brown for eight years, watching him grow his stable to the powerhouse that has earned him the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer for the past two years in a row.
Following Lady Eli's retirement, DeVaux felt the time was right to take a chance and step out on her own.
“I would love to be half as successful as Chad has been,” she said. “I want to be known for having good integrity and good results and be competitive on the NYRA circuit.”
Of course, her practical side is on full display. DeVaux gave herself several weeks to get the business structures organized, acquire the necessary equipment, and start meeting with potential clients. She plans to have her first horses stabled at Belmont Park the week after the Kentucky Derby.
The goal-oriented DeVaux is looking forward to the challenge. She loves to make plans and stick with them, as evidenced by her venture into body-building several years ago. Her knowledge of biology will also be an asset, she said, because she has a better understanding of how medications will interact with the horses' bodies and can talk to veterinarians on a higher level to get the full picture.
“I just don't want to lose sight that we are all here for the horses,” DeVaux said. “The goal is to win races, of course, but care of the horse is number one. That's what keeps me getting out of bed before dawn every morning – that relationship with the horses.”
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