Last-to-first bursts seem to be a theme for Michael Trombetta trainees this week. On Saturday, David Palmer's Wet Your Whistle stepped up to capture the Grade 1 Highlander Stakes at Woodbine, his fourth win in a row. Then on Thursday, Live Oak Plantation's Triple Crown contender Win Win Win followed suit with a switch to turf, setting a stakes record in the $100,000 Manila at Belmont Park.
It's been a pretty good week for the Maryland-based trainer, but he isn't the type to linger in the spotlight.
“I thought (Wet Your Whistle) could run good,” Trombetta said of the 4-year-old son of Stroll. “I didn't think he would come from last and finish first and run a career best by a considerable margin, but I thought he was capable of doing a good job for us.”
He similarly deflects praise for switching Win Win Win, a 3-year-old Hat Trick colt, from the dirt to the turf.
“This was an experiment, I really didn't know how it was going to end,” said Trombetta. “We didn't put any pressure on him, but he handled it well and we were happy with him. We wanted to see what it was all about and get him started, but we'll take him one race at a time.”
His calm, steady demeanor has been developed over more than 30 years of training Thoroughbreds. Unlike many conditioners, Trombetta didn't spend years as an assistant trainer to learn the ropes of the game; he got his education by owning a handful of horses and training them himself, while working a full-time job on the side.
The interest in racing came from his father.
“He owned a few horses and he had a friend that trained, so they kind of partnered up and buddied up on a few of them,” Trombetta explained. “He was a nice enough, kind enough man that would take me with him in the summers and I would pitch in and help out and get some experience. Before long I was working for somebody that had a few more horses, first as a hotwalker, then as a groom, then on to getting a trainer's license.
“Now I did that probably a bit early… At 18 years old, there's nobody going to give you horses at that age. I got a few that belonged to us, and that's where I got started. I did other things along the way, I worked a regular job and trained a few horses. It took a while before we started getting client's horses… For anybody that's young and starting off, that's the toughest time.”
From his first winner in 1986, Amant De Cour, through the early 2000's, Trombetta learned the ins and outs of Thoroughbreds training in the Mid-Atlantic region. In 2005, he was able to start training full time with a stable of 35-40 horses, and that year he earned the Maryland Trainer of the Year title.
“Then in 2006, I was fortunate enough to get a good 3-year-old that took me to the Derby and the Preakness,” Trombetta said. “We already had a little bit of momentum, but that gave us a pretty good push.”
That colt was post-time favorite for the 2006 Run for the Roses, Sweetnorthernsaint. He earned his way into the Derby with a 9 ¼-length win in the Illinois Derby, and finished seventh on the first Saturday in May. Sweetnorthernsaint ran better in the Preakness, finishing second to eventual champion Bernardini. He won several more stakes over his career, retiring with earnings of $947,632.
Returning to the Triple Crown trail for the first time since 2006, the journey with Win Win Win this season was another milestone for Trombetta, who has saddled 1,762 winners in his 33-year career.
Wet Your Whistle's impressive performance and Win Win Win's new-found promise on the turf are just two more reasons to keep looking forward.
“We'll just see what the second half of the season holds for us,” Trombetta said. “It's been a pretty fun year at this point, we got to do the Derby and the Preakness again, and now (Wet Your Whistle) comes through like he did, so it's been a lot of fun.
“Most people aren't as fortunate as us, to do something that they really, really like. You know the old saying, 'If you like what you do, it's not a job.' So I still enjoy it, I like the horses, I enjoy the people, it's never necessarily been easy but it is enjoyable.“
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