When trainer Chad Brown accepted the
responsibility of training French champion Stacelita, he knew his years of
assisting the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel prepared him well for the
When Stacelita competes in the Filly & Mare Turf on November 4, she
will attempt to give Brown his second Breeders’ Cup victory in his fourth
year of training. In 2008, his first full year of training, Brown won the inaugural
Juvenile Fillies Turf one year after saddling Ginger Punch prior to her score
in the Distaff on behalf of Frankel, who had remained in California to tend to
his terminally ill dog, Happy.
In the weeks following the 2007 Breeders’ Cup, Brown took out his
trainer’s license, and it hasn’t taken long for the native of
Mechanicville in Saratoga County,
N.Y. to escape the long shadow
cast by his former mentor.
Brown often attended Saratoga Race Course during his youth, eventually
deciding to pursue a career working with thoroughbred racehorses. His path to
becoming a trainer included stints tending to standardbreds at Saratoga
Raceway, sales prospects at Keeneland, and thoroughbreds trained by Hall of
Famer Shug McGaughey. After graduating from Cornell
University in 2001 with a degree in
animal husbandry, Brown signed on with Frankel, who sent his new employee to California to work under
his long-time assistant Humberto Ascanio.
“At that time, [Ascanio] had already been with [Frankel] for 30
years,” said Brown at his Belmont
Park barn. “When
Bobby hired me, he felt it was important I moved to California, which I really didn’t want
to do at the time, to learn directly from Humberto. He said, ‘If you want
to learn the right way, that’s what you have to do.’”
Despite his reluctance to move across the country, Brown came to
appreciate the opportunity to learn Ascanio’s old-fashioned training
“With Humberto, I learned there are plenty of ways to really help
and fix horses without having to use the vet,” said Brown. “That
was the biggest thing with Humberto. Did we do vet work? Occasionally, but
Bobby [and Humberto weren’t] big with the vet. Humberto was old school
and would really work around the clock on those horses to make sure they were
healthy, sound, and comfortable in all areas of the body, whether it was their
feet were bothering them, or their knees or hind end.
“When I started getting exposed to that, it was a lot of work.
Whatever it was, Humberto was at what we’d call a ‘full-court press’
working on those horses around-the-clock, whether it was the cheapest horse in
the barn or Medaglia d’Oro. Whether it was a quarter crack, a sick horse,
skin disease, a horse that ties, or a mouth injury, he had a method. Humberto
was an encyclopedia of horse knowledge. He’d say, ‘This is how we
handle this problem.’ I’d learn, and then he’d say ‘Now
you do it.’ I learned through repetition. I’m still learning, but I
have a background in dealing with several different problems that arise.
I’ll say, ‘What would Humberto do?’ and ‘This is what
Brown also did his best to learn Frankel’s practices when he was
in the trainer’s presence.
“With Bobby, I’d really pay attention when we’d go to
the track and watch horses train and I’d hear what he’d have to say
as they went by,” said Brown. “He’d say, ‘That horse is
looking for the grass because of X, Y, and Z.’ Or ‘That horse
isn’t traveling quite right. I’m not going to run that
horse.’ Or, ‘This horse is running well, and this is why.’
Or, ‘That rider doesn’t work for that horse. I’m going to
make a change tomorrow.’ I sort of developed his feel, or at least part
of it. He just had a natural feel for horses that you can’t describe. He
could watch them move from the side of the track and really get a handle on
what kind of horse they were, what they were destined to do, what style of
racing would probably suit them, what quality they are, where they need to be
Frankel epitomized horsemanship, Brown said.
“I watched a lot of people at Hollywood [Park] whom I thought were great
trainers,” said Brown. “I picked up pieces as I traveled around the
country. Here at Belmont
there are some great trainers. I might take a little piece of what they do and
incorporate it. But as far as an overall feel for horses – watching him
go every day and walk away from the rail from every set and watching him
process what kind of changes he wanted to make – I had never seen anybody
like [Frankel] to date.”
Frankel was renowned for training grass horses – his pupils
included Eclipse Award-winning turf champions Intercontinental,
Leroidesanimaux, Possibly Perfect, Ryafan, and Wandesta – even though he
had never worked under a trainer known for turf acumen. One day, Brown asked
Frankel how he developed such a talent, and Frankel revealed that he, like
Brown, learned a lot by observing other trainers.
“I said to Bobby, ‘You never really worked for anybody who
trains [turf] horses. How did you learn?’” recalled Brown.
“He said, ‘By watching people. By watching Charlie Whittingham for
years. When I was claiming horses, I’d watch him like a hawk.’
That’s how smart he was. He didn’t even have to work for somebody.
He just watched every day what [Whittingham] was doing with his horses and
experimented on his own.”
Brown said Frankel’s patience helped him unleash the potential of
his European imports.
“I think training European horses in America takes tremendous feel,”
said Brown. “There is a handful of people over here that have a good feel
for it. It just takes tremendous feel and patience because they’re all a
little different and are trained differently over there. He had a tremendous
ability, especially with European horses, to know when to press the gas and
when to press the brake. When they come over here, some are already to run in
three months and some are ready to run in six months. He knew which ones to go
on with and which ones he needed to give more time to.”
Brown now applies the lessons he learned from Frankel with Stacelita,
who was named France’s
2009 Champion Three-Year-Old filly after winning three Group 1 races, including
the Prix de Diane. Owner Martin Schwartz brought Stacelita to the United States
in 2011 and transferred her to Brown after she finished third in the United
Nations in July for French trainer Jean-Claude Rouget.
Schwartz wanted Stacelita to conclude her career with starts in three
Grade 1 races: the Beverly D., Flower Bowl Invitational, and Breeders’
Cup Filly & Mare Turf. After Brown approved the plan, Stacelita went on to
win the Beverly D. by 1 ¼ lengths and the Flower Bowl by two lengths.
“[Schwartz was] not going to hold me to it, but his plan made
sense, so we agreed on it,” said Brown. “He picked three specific
races he wanted her to run in my care. They were the Beverly D., the Flower
Bowl, and the Filly & Mare Turf, God willing. I put her on that schedule,
and so far, knock on wood, it has worked out perfectly.”
While Brown recognizes the responsibility of attempting to close out a champion’s
career with a Breeders’ Cup win, he also sees it as the culmination of
his years spent learning the trade from horsemen like McGaughey, Ascanio, and,
of course, Frankel.
“[Schwartz has] owned plenty of nice fillies over the years, but
he’d be the first to tell you Stacelita ranks way up there with the top
two or three,” said Brown. “For him to trust me, 32 years old, with
a prized possession, a champion horse in her native France, really is rewarding. The
day he actually gave me the reins to her, I thought, ‘This is what we
work towards, these opportunities.’ I sure don’t want to disappoint