Consistency and tradition are two of the pillars on which George “Rusty” Arnold's training stable has been built, and they are also two of the reasons that he has been in business for 40 years.
Concrete Rose's domination of last Saturday's Belmont Oaks gave Arnold his first Grade 1 win in 2019 and had the third-generation horseman hearkening back to his first top-level victory in 1982, when he saddled Wavering Monarch to win the Haskell Invitational.
“It's what we all are in the business for,” said Arnold, 64. “At least, if nothing else, I've adapted with the times. I've stood the test of time from 1982 to 2019.”
While his father and grandfather were both involved in the breeding side of the Thoroughbred business, Arnold has always been drawn to the racing game. He scheduled his classes at the University of Kentucky around training hours at Keeneland, and after two years of college decided he wanted to train horses full-time.
Wavering Monarch's Haskell win kick-started Arnold's career, and introduced him to new clients with whom he has cultivated relationships lasting nearly 30 years.
“I've been extremely lucky to attract not a large clientele, but a quality clientele,” Arnold explained. “I've worked for the people who own Concrete Rose, the Bromagen family, for probably 30-something years. I know I was working for them when their racing manager, Bo Bromagen, wasn't even born yet. I'm proud of the fact that I've worked for those people for that period of time.
“I think that's one of the reasons I've made it. I've attracted a couple of really top-end owners, and they stick with me a long time.”
Other long-time owners include G. Watts Humphrey, John Greathouse, Richard Masson, and Alex Campbell.
Owners aren't the only ones to have stuck with Arnold throughout his career. Jack Bohannan was in the paddock with Wavering Monarch in 1982, and today runs the Churchill division of Arnold's 40-horse stable.
Arnold met his wife Sarah, a major part of his operation for 25-plus years, on the backstretch when he was just getting started and hired her as one of his first exercise riders. (Their relationship took several years to blossom, and the couple married in 1996.)
Of course, the racing industry has seen major changes since Arnold sent out his first Grade 1 winner.
“The biggest difference stable you raced against in 1982 was about 30 to 40 horses,” he said. “Like it or not like it, and this is not a criticism, Wayne Lukas changed the face of horse racing. He was the first one that came along and put the satellite divisions in. He had wonderful assistants at Belmont, Churchill, Oaklawn, Santa Anita, everywhere, and the horse business had never seen anything like that.
“Now, Todd Pletcher is taking it to a top level, Chad Brown is taking it to a top level, Steve Asmussen is another, and they're dominating the sport. They're doing what they do, and they get their hands on a lot of good horses, and they're tough to beat.”
Watching Concrete Rose dominate her rivals on Saturday was especially sweet for Arnold, who has shown the patience to race her sparingly, allowing the Twirling Candy filly to learn to relax and mature through the first half of her sophomore season.
“She's just really moved forward as a 3-year-old,” Arnold said. “(I was concerned) that I rested her too much. Everyone had run and we hadn't run in two months and a couple of days and I was a little worried. Her training went smooth, her works went smooth and everything went well.
“She's gotten really good. She accepted the mile and a quarter really, really well, and I was impressed with her race. I thought she ran great.”
To date, Arnold has saddled 1,777 winners, and he is one of just three trainers to have more than 250 winners at Keeneland. He estimates he has sent out 20 winners of Grade 1 races throughout his career, the most recent prior to Concrete Rose being Romantic Vision in the 2017 Spinster.
“When you have kept your level at about 40-50 horses for 40 years, you're not going to have quite as many Grade 1's (as the bigger stables), but it's just as satisfying,” Arnold said. “Maybe more so, I don't know because I'm not on the other end.”
As the Saratoga season opens this weekend and he prepares Concrete Rose for the next leg of the Turf Tiara (the $1 million Saratoga Oaks on Aug. 2), Arnold gives off a sense of quiet satisfaction as he reflects on his career.
“I think we've worked really hard, I think we try to get the best out of these horses that we can, I think I'm staffed really well, and I think we're honest and we do a good job,” he summarized. “I think it's a credit that we're steady, we're solid, we don't make a lot of changes, and I think that speaks volumes for what we do. We're proud of what we put out there.”
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