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Breeders' Cup 2017

Stacelita, Brown Seek Breeders' Cup Glory

Stacelita (no. 1), ridden by Ramon Dominguez and trained by Chad Brown, wins the 22nd running of the grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes for fillies and mares three years old and upward on August 13, 2011 at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Illinois. (Bob Mayberger/Eclipse Sportswire)
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 task.


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 methods.


“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 Humberto did.’”


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 placed.”


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 him.”




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