Race of the Week 2017
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Bada Bing Inc.

Mark Hennig: Live Lively's Trainer Talks

Trainer Mark Hennig has deep and rich roots in the horse training world. He grew up with his siblings in his father, John’s, racing stable. His early equine education was picked up by a couple of Hall of Famers in Jack Van Berg and D. Wayne Lukas. When Hennig finally went out on his own, he quickly went on to win a series of Grade I races from coast-to-coast.


On the eve of his filly, Live Lively’s start in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks, Hennig chatted about his beginnings in the Thoroughbred horse racing world, what he’s learned along the way and how it feels to win a big race. Our conversation occurred just after Live Lively received a visit from NFL ProBowl defensive linemen, Vince Wilfork – interesting to say the least.



Tony Bada Bing: You’re training resume is filled with Grade I wins, many of which kicked off your training career in 1993 – Arlington Million, Santa Anita Derby and United Nations, to name a few – how were you able to attain such success so quickly and did those successes build a level of expectation for continued success from a younger you? In other words, did you say to yourself, “wow this is easy?”


Mark Hennig: I was very fortunate. I went out on my own, straight from [D.]Wayne [Lukas]. I had some great clients right away. By virtue of having good clients, I had good horses. And then I went right from that to Ned Evans who I had a lot of horses for and just kept rolling. I think at that age I was probably too young to appreciate the success that I was having. And you know in hindsight you look back and you’re like, “Wow, that really was a heck of a run.” The longer you’re in this game you realize just like any basketball coach, football coach, whatever, if you don’t have the players you’re not going to win. It’s much easier to train a good horse than a bad horse. While I appreciate the success I had early in my career, I appreciate it a lot more now than I did then.


TBB: Beyond hard work and determination how have the experiences and opportunities, starting with your father and then moving onto such legendary trainers like Neil Howard, Jack Van Berg and D. Wayne Lukas, help prepare you for a successful training career?


MH: Growing up in a racing family, a work ethic was first and foremost instilled in all of us kids at a young age. You know my sister is married to Kiaran [McLaughlin], she was working with my dad too. We were all there together. You know my dad is the one who got me hooked up with Jack Van Berg when I first left college to go to work. He thought it would be a good idea if I worked with those stature of guys. So that’s what we did. It worked out well. I went from Jack to Wayne. I worked for Neil Howard over one summer when I was still going to college. It was very unselfish of my father. I could have been working for him; still working for him. But he did what was in my best interest and got me connected to the right people that opened a lot of doors.


TBB: Anything in particular from your dad or those other trainers that you have taken with you or expanded on in your own career, anything that comes to mind?


MH: Well, certainly you know, leg work and stuff started with my dad. Certainly Jack has lot of old school ways of doing things that I picked up on. You know the years of experience with Wayne were just like throwing 10 years into three, because of the volume of horses we were working with, the organization itself and the organizational skills of how to handle running a barn and those kinds of things we were all exposed to as assistants that some other guys probably don’t get exposed to. When I had my division for Wayne I was often in the mid-west where in a year’s time I might be around 150 different horses. It’s’ all matter of seeing things and experiencing things. Making right decisions and making some wrong decisions and learning from them. So a lot of what we do in racing goes off of your experiences and hopefully you learn from them and try not to repeat mistakes, but it’s a great education. You can’t just learn to train horses by reading a book, you’ve got to be there and do it and the more horses you’re exposed to and the more things you see, really helps you down the road.


TBB: In the time you worked under Lukas, he had an incredible string of outstanding horses such as Winning Colors, Gulch and Steinlen, What specifically did you learn from Lukas about training Grade I/championship caliber horses?


MH: You know Todd, myself, Kiaran – there’s a certain training pattern that we all kind of use. It’s kind of ironic. We were looking at the Form – my owner and I of Live Lively. You can look at Live Lively’s work tab from back in January and Dreaming of Julia’s work tab and they almost worked exactly on the same days the whole way this winter. You know that’s more of a product of what we learned in that camp in terms of style of training probably. Trying to make sure we leave some gas in the tank and not over work them – that’s the biggest key we learned from Wayne and paying attention to detail in the process.


TBB: Also during your time under Lukas, there was an amazing group of assistants including Todd Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, Dallas Stewart, George Weaver, etc., did you know at the time how influential a group you were working with? And did this group form a bond that’s lasted into your own successful careers?


MH: We all appreciated what the other one did and what everyone brought to the table. Randy Bradshaw was there too at the time. It’s a great group of guys that all got along really well. Kiaran left to be a jock’s agent, and I was the first assistant that went on my own, which was probably more difficult than later on. I think Wayne… for a little while it was a little bittersweet when I was gone, but I think he came around and really embraced us all as we went on our own. He’s very proud of us at this point. When we were first leaving the nest it was hard on him personally and at the same time he lost a key assistant with Jeff’s [Lukas] injury.


TBB: Of course you have Live Lively, a graded stakes winner, going in Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks. She has quickly made the jump from maiden to allowance to stakes winner in her last three starts. At what point did you know you were onto something special with her? Why?


MH: Before I even ran her back in June I thought she had some very special qualities. I was a little disappointed when she didn’t when her first start, but she came out of it subsequently with some issues that needed a little time. Going into her maiden race in November I was pretty confident that she was going to be a quality filly. You have to wait and see [coming off layoff]. I was very confident coming off that maiden win that she would move forward pretty quickly.


TBB: The Oaks has a compact and seemingly evenly matched field – besides a safe, victorious trip what are you hoping to see from Live Lively in this race that would give you the feeling she’s ready for the next big race - the Kentucky Oaks?


MH: She’s trained so well since that last race. I think she’s getting more and more professional in everything she does. I’d just like to see another step in the right direction that way. She’s naturally going to come away from there with a pretty good cruising pace. I don’t feel that she has to be in front. If someone wants to really commit their horse to be in front of her, so be it. I’ve worked her behind horses and she’s happy to sit off of them, if need be. She’s going to go a certain pace because that’s just he natural pace.


TBB: As a trainer what does it feel like to win a big race, a grade one race right after your horse crosses the finish line first? If you could describe it, what’s that feeling like for you?


MH: A combination of relief and you’re obviously happy and excited. You do a lot of reflecting in those moments right after. The decisions you made and things you’ve done and try to store them away and use them in the future.


TBB: What would it mean for you to have Kentucky Oaks starter and/or winner at this stage of your career?


MH: It would be great at any stage. I just appreciate having a good horse like her. It’s very rewarding to have a horse of her caliber and have her go out there and show up. She’s loves her job, it’s very fulfilling.


TBB: Do you have any pre-race superstitions for big races like GP Oaks? If so, what are they and if not, how do you avoid rituals in the horseracing world?


MH:I probably have tons of them, and I couldn’t begin to go through all of them. 


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Older Comments about Mark Hennig: Live Lively's Trainer Talks...

Tough day for anyone in the GP Oaks not named Dreaming of Julia ... Live Lively will be back though, and good for Hennig on being one of the most friendly and responsive trainers on Twitter.

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Tony Bada Bing began his lifelong quest of finding winners more than 35 years ago as a fifth grade student. This is when his grandfather first took him to the many Off Track Betting facilities sprinkled throughout Long Island, NY. While many kids his age were clamoring to hit the beach or an amusement park during summer vacation, Bada Bing was spending it in stuffy, smoked-filled rooms filled with retirees and reprobates listening to Marshall Cassidy on tape delay calling Saratoga.

This passion was further lit by his father, who took Bada Bing to East Boston's Suffolk Downs, only after Bada Bing learned to read the Racing Form. For most of his young adult life a summer rotation of NY OTB, Suffolk, and the now shuddered Rockingham Park in Salem, NH filled his betting days. 

Notable winners along the way: Willow Hour's and Runaway Groom's Travers wins as well as Derby winners Grindstone, Thunder Gulch (which he called in print the day before) and Super Saver. His latest quest is to hit the Kentucky Derby superfecta.

Bada Bing plays tournaments at Derby Wars, bets through several account wagering sites and has blogged about Thoroughbred racing for the past four years. He prefers the bigger meets of NYRA and California as well as seasonal meets of Gulfstream, Churchill and Oaklawn. He likes vertical, multirace wagers like Pick 4s.

He has produced several Horse Racing Nation videos, in addition to blogging. He can be found at Twitter @tonycbadabing. While away from the track Bada Bing enjoys time with his wife, who tolerates and supports his passion, and his two children.


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