It's been almost 30 years since a horse named Petro D. Jay blazed into the history books at Turf Paradise by clocking a world record time of 1:07 1/5 for six furlongs. The horse's trainer, Randy Bradshaw, was a 31-year-old Wyoming native who got his start in the business learning from his uncle, Lyman Rollins, for decades a legendary trainer at racetracks in Nebraska and Colorado.
Bradshaw headed west from Arizona, opening a public stable in Southern California and then joining the high-flying team of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas as a key assistant in the 1980s. After a break from racing (legend had the rugged Westerner operating a tree stump removal business in Idaho), he came back to the track in the 1990s, but in 2000 opted to concentrate on young horses in Central Florida, working first at Satish and Anne Sanan's Padua training facility, and then overseeing Frank Stronach's large breaking and training operation at Adena Springs South in Williston, Fla. He now runs Randy K. Bradshaw Breaking and Training at Adena Springs, where outside clients include Everett Dobson's Cheyenne Racing, Team Valor, Marylou Whitney, Bobby Flay and others. Bradshaw has done the early training and foundation work for numerous Grade 1 winners, including the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom.
Why did you leave the track to train young horses at a farm/training center?
When Wayne Lukas joined forces with Satish Sanan at Padua, he asked me to go to work with him. I had 100 horses in training at the time, so it wasn't an easy decision. After Satish and Wayne split. Satish asked me to come down to Florida and take over Padua and the training center. I thought it was a good point in my life to try something different. Satish had a lot of nice young horses, and we took on horses for Overbrook Farm, Marylou Whitney, Irv Cowan and some other good people.
What's the biggest difference between what you are doing now vs. what you were doing at the racetrack?
There's not as much pressure to compete and win all the time. I like being patient with horses. Sometimes at the track it's tough because everybody is looking toward the next race. Sometimes you're pressured into making what is not the right decision because you're trying to make a race. The thing I have enjoyed, especially working with Frank Stronach, is that you get all the time you want. I have carte blanche. That's one thing I've discovered, after training a lot of horses. The more patience people let you have, the better job you can do developing young horses without being under the gun. If you push young horses they might never reach their potential.
Do you have any particular philosophy you live by with young horses?
You develop a system. The first two months of a horse's life in training, you go slow. The idea is to strengthen tendons and suspensories. Later on, as they get more miles under them, you strengthen bone density. With Frank Stronach, we've had no more than 2% to 3% of the horses develop shin problems, way below the national average. I knew we were on the right path taking it slow and steady, and then gradually putting in little eighth of a mile bursts. After getting broke, they go a mile or a mile and an eighth. After a while, twice a week they'll go that final eighth in 18 seconds, then the next week is 16, then 14, then 13 and change. I don't like them to have them go in 11. We don't go that fast, and that's a reason we don't get shins. Going slow develops denser, harder bone.
Is it a constant learning process?
You adapt every year. I spend a lot of time on the ground with the horses, line driving. It's important the horse knows when you put a rider on them for the first time that they know what they are doing. I spend a month in the round pen, teaching them a lot. By the time a rider gets on them, they know what to do.
Are horses different today than when you first went to track?
Absolutely, I have no doubt about it. I'm fortunate that when I came to California, there were guys like Laz Barrera, Charlie Whittingham, Buster Millerick and Gary Jones. I watched those guys train horses. You could train horses a lot harder than we train today. They are not near as tough, and I think there are a lot of reasons for that.
First, I think it's genetics. We've inbred a lot of these horses to brilliant, fast horses with short careers of three to four starts. Everyone knew they were good. We continually keep breeding back to the same thing. In American racing we are always looking for that fast horses that isn't bred to go a distance of ground.
Second, there used to be the Calumets and Spendthrifts that bred horses to race, and now it's so much about being commercial. That being said, a lot of horses don't have very much outside time. It's a beauty pageant. When I first started going to sales, they pulled ‘em right out of a field. Today, they look like little racehorses, they put a lot of time into prepping them. I think at the most important growing time of their lives many of these horses are in a stall. That's not with everybody, but you see it happen a lot. Too many of these horses look like they've been prepped too much.
Another thought I have is about nutrition. I look at all the alfalfa fields. Farmers have been growing hay and alfalfa on the same fields for years, and all they do is fertilize them. But I'm not sure how much nutrition is left because of growing those crops in the same fields year after year.
Add it all up and we have a lot weaker horse.
I remember back in the 1960s, trainer Richard Hazleton had a horse named Maxwell G., who won 47 races in his career (he raced 234 times). We used to race horses more and train them less. When you run a horse every two or three weeks you don't have to train them as much in between. Now, when these horses are laid off longer between races, you have to train them harder. They get more torn up in the morning. It's just gotten to where the horses are softer, they get more time.
Is there any way to put the toothpaste back in the tube?
To change it's got to come down to education: How to make a better horse instead of how to make more money. Wayne (Lukas) had something to do with the change in the business, buying all these million dollar yearlings. You spend that money, and chances are you're not going to be lucky enough to get your money back in purses. Until we can figure out how to make the horses stronger and better, the economics are not going to improve.
When a horse leaves you for the racetrack, what kind of dialogue typically goes on between you and the trainer who will get the horse?
Generally, I let them know the horse's temperament and any idiosyncrasies. They all have different personalities. Some have quirks: they might be difficult at the gate, things like that. You try to give them as much information as you can. Do they have issues with ankles, have they tied up? You just want to give the trainer a clue so they know what's going on. Sometimes I may tell them if I think they're two-turn horses or sprinters. I don't like to do that too much though, because horses can make you look stupid.
Are you often surprised by a horse you either thought had a bright future and was disappointing or one who seemed pretty ordinary and went on to big things?
(Kentucky Derby winner) Animal Kingdom was one of those horses. Early on I liked him, then he went through a stage where he was resentful. He didn't want to go out of the gate. I told Wayne Catalano (who trained Animal Kingdom at two), “He's a nice horse but might take a couple of races to show it.”
What role did you play in keeping Animal Kingdom in light training over the winter instead of giving him time off?
When you have a 2-year-old win at a mile and an eighth in October you have to think Derby. I said I think Animal Kingdom will handle dirt, so I called Barry (Irwin, head of owner, Team Valor) to congratulate him on the win at Keeneland. He said, “I'm thinking of sending him back to you,” and he was thinking about giving all the horses to Graham at that time. Barry wanted him to have 30 days off at the end of October. I talked to Graham and said that would be a tough schedule if you're thinking about the Derby. With weather or a slight injury, that time frame probably wouldn't work. He and I discussed it, and we kept him in light training, breezed him once or twice in late December and then sent him to Graham.
Any opinion on the medication debate that's ongoing?
I personally think they could get rid of everything but Lasix. We need every kind of horse to keep the business going, from $5,000 claimers to stakes horses. There's a niche for all these horses. You can't always turn them out and solve bleeding. Take a little guy with a small stable of four or five horses and they're $5,000 to $10,000 claimers. It doesn't make economic sense to turn them out and think you're going to make any kind of money. Horses are not in the healthiest environments. They have allergies that promote bleeding.
Also, when I look at the gambling aspect, if we're trying to be fair to the public, if a horse bleeds and can't run on Lasix and he's 8-5 and runs up the tracks I'm not sure that is fair to the bettors.
I use the analogy that if you take away permitted medications, some people think it makes the game cleaner, but I don't think it will. By the same token, if you take away guns from people, the crooks will still have them.
Do you miss anything about the track?
I miss running good horses in big races. It's a huge thrill when you win big races. That part of it I miss greatly. But it's fun to watch these horses develop and go on to big things. It's satisfying and confirms that we've done a good job.
I don't miss the seven days a week. I get to take Sundays off now. It helps to recharge.
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