In many ways, Tom Bohannan has the perfect job with the perks of training Thoroughbreds but without the problems. He still enjoys mixing and mingling with horses and horse people at the track while wintering in the warmth, but his current role lacks the dramatic highs and lows of his former career.
Bohannan has been a van agent for Brook Ledge Horse Transportation for five years after holding a similar position with Sallee Horse Vans. His duties are far removed from the spotlight that shined on him in the early 1990s, most notably as trainer of consecutive Preakness Stakes Pine Bluff (1992) and Prairie Bayou (1993), the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby.
“My favorite memories of the track are the ones with the good horses and the big races,” he said. “I do miss being in the shedrow and being hands-on with horses but I don't miss the headaches (of training) at all.”
Bohannan still maintains a seven-day a week schedule while acting as the liaison between trainers and Brook Ledge's dispatch headquarters in Oley, Penn. (The company has hubs in Lexington and Ocala.)
For departures, horsemen give their requests to Bohannan, who contacts the office for scheduling. Van drivers then relate the finalized itinerary to Bohannan to coordinate details such as barn and loading dock locations, specific time restrictions and special instructions. For intakes, dispatchers contact Bohannan with arrival time and other information so that he can be present for the unloading process. He also attends the loading routine when stables ship out.
Through the years, he has been offered training positions and other posts but thus far, Bohannan has declined.
“I am happy with what I am doing now,” he said. “I am still on the racetrack and I still get to talk to the people I know.”
He is spending the winter at Fair Grounds and is based in Louisville the remainder of the year.
In his first year as a trainer in 1989, De Roche started the steady parade of Bohannan's high profile winners by capturing the Grade 1 Jerome Handicap at Belmont Park for John Ed Anthony's Loblolly Stable. The stable name of the mighty pine tree was a nod to Anthony's Arkansas lumber business, and De Roche, like so many of the Loblolly runners, was named for a place in his state. Anthony races now as Shortleaf Stable.
Bohannan was in the right place at the right time to accept the Loblolly fleet, which in that era was handled by several trainers including Rusty Arnold for whom Bohannan was an assistant. When Anthony decided to consolidate, Bohannan was hired as his private trainer to take Anthony's Thoroughbreds to Oaklawn Park for the winter and beyond.
After De Roche's Jerome, the victory procession rolled on with graded stakes winners Idabel, Foresta, Lost Mountain and Pine Bluff, who put Bohannan on the map in 1992. Christened for one of the largest cities in Arkansas and campaigned by one of the state's most successful businessmen, Pine Bluff naturally was an Oaklawn Park fan favorite. He added to his reputation by winning the G3 Rebel Stakes and the G2 Arkansas Derby. After finishing fifth in the Kentucky Derby, he etched Bohannan's name in the history books by winning the Preakness.
The following year, Dalhart fueled Derby dreams for Bohannan and Loblolly Stable at Oaklawn while Prairie Bayou took the Kentucky route. Dalhart won the Rebel but bypassed the spring classics after finishing ninth as the favorite in the Arkansas Derby. Prairie Bayou was victorious in Turfway Park's G2 Jim Beam and Keeneland's G2 Blue Grass Stakes and was runner-up in the Kentucky Derby prior to giving the Bohannan-Anthony team their final graded stakes victory together in the Preakness.
By 1999, Anthony and Bohannan parted ways and Bohannan discontinued his training career. He left the track completely to work in a brother's golf course construction company but renewed his license in 2006 when he and Anthony teamed up again. After saddling a handful of winners through 2009, a colleague suggested Bohannan parlay his skills into being a shipping agent and he made a smooth transition into working for Sallee Horse Vans.
Bohannan concurs with other longtime insiders who say training racehorses is more challenging than ever in part because of competition from conditioners with massive stables. He said aspiring conditioners should be 100 percent sure they are ready for the challenge.
“It is difficult especially now when you might have six or eight horses and going up against stables with 100 or more horses,” he said. “It is tougher for a small stable to get started more so than it was 20 years ago.”
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