Val Brinkerhoff is one of the faceless trainers who drives the game.
Light years from being in a league with the Bafferts, Browns and Pletchers, pound for pound, the 61-year-old Brinkerhoff nonetheless has one of the most successful mom and pop operations in the land.
Horsemen and horse players alike have taken notice since this lean and lanky version of John Wayne, cowboy hat and all, brought in a dozen horses from his native Utah, winning with two from just 16 starters at Santa Anita's recently concluded Winter Meet.
“It's really tough on this circuit,” Brinkerhoff said, “but I came to California because it gives me an opportunity to improve my barn. I've got some owners now who are enabling me to get better horses.”
One such gentleman is Bobby Wayne Grayson, a trainer in his own right. “We went to Keeneland and bought some colts,” said Brinkerhoff, a former jockey who rode for 30 years including the hinterlands of Montana and Utah, and who gallops all his own horses.
“I just got back from the Ocala Sales and will go back for the next one there. We're trying to get a better brand of horses. I've got my own training center in St. George, Utah, where we start our babies out.
“It has a three-quarter mile track with an eight-horse starting gate and a certified clocker and everything. We can do a lot better training up there since the traffic is lighter in the mornings than here. We spend more time with them and get them better-schooled.”
By the time his young horses get to Santa Anita, “they know what they're doing,” Brinkerhoff said. “I've got them all gate-schooled and when they come here they're pretty much ready to run.”
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