Hawthorne Racecourse (11/17/12)
Contact: Ron Uchman
WHO IS THAT GUY?
That was a question frequently asked around Hawthorne Race Course last fall. The “guy” they were referring to was trainer Clay Brinson. He was largely unknown in the area but he came here that meet and starting winning at an unbelievable clip. He finished that meet with seven wins from 31 races, not too shabby, but if memory serves me correctly, he won his first four local races.
He returned this past spring and again won seven races, but this time it was from only 20 starts. Still, few seemed to know who he was.
At the current meet (through Sunday), he won with nine of his first 22 starters. I had to know who he was. So I hired a PI to track him down. (In reality, I just gave him a call and he was gracious enough to come into the Racing Office to meet me).
“Who are you?” was my first question to him. He just laughed. No, he really just laughed. I was hoping that it was with me and not at me.
“I’m not well known around here but me, and pretty much my whole family, is well known in California. My brother is the starter out there at Hollywood and Del Mar. We both rode. My dad trained for 50 years. My brother and I were pretty much raised around the racetrack.
“I rode for four years. I was the leading apprentice in California in 1963 and 1964. I was the leading rider at Golden Gate twice. I was the last leading rider at Tanforan before it burned down. I rode Hill Rise. But, I got heavy so I started training. I’ve been training since 1968.
“I trained from 1968 until about 1986 or ’87. But, I got kind of burned out. A lot of my good owners died and I just got sour. So, I bought a 40-acre farm in Washington (state) and went up there for about four years.
“However, I found out that fixing fences in the middle of winter isn’t fun so I went back down to Bay Meadows and started again. Then, I moved to Phoenix about six years ago but you can’t do any good there. There’s no money there.
“I had some clients who thought I would do well at Canterbury in Minnesota. I had heard some good things about Canterbury so I took some horses to Canterbury and did pretty good. Then my clients and I thought we would try Chicago. I really like it here. Of course you always like a place where you are doing well.
“I was born in San Mateo but raised in Arcadia. We used to walk hots for my father in the summertime. We would rub horses. Back in those days they didn’t really check the licenses for the trainer’s sons. We used to take the easy horses down to the beach at Del Mar and gallop them. My father Ross (currently 101 years old) won the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Hollywood Sunset with a horse named Cover Up. He brought him to Washington Park and ran fourth to a horse called Armed. He trained for 57 years.
“I did well in California, riding and training,” continued Brinson. “Hall of Fame trainer Robert Wheeler held my contract when I was a bug boy. Back in those days, when you were an apprentice rider, somebody had to hold your contract. They’ve since done away with that. I won my first race at Santa Anita on a horse named Brer Rabbit on Santa Anita Derby day in 1963.
“I won quite a few stakes as a trainer out there. I won the Bay Meadows Juvenile. I won the Fairplex Derby Trial twice, when Fairplex was Pomona. I ran second in the Derby there. I ran second to Landaluce (if you get a chance check out Landaluce’s Hollywood Lassie win on YouTube).
“I trained for Vic Tayback (diner owner Mel Sharples in the movie “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and the TV series “Alice.” In fact, I got him started in the business.
“I had a horse named Santa Rosa Francis that held the track record at Del Mar.
“I got thrills from winning as a rider and winning as a trainer but I feel more satisfaction winning as a trainer. As a rider you might go work a horse in the morning and then not ride him for a long time. As a trainer you are intimately involved with the horse.
“I get most of my horses from California. My brother kind of keeps an eye out for me out there. He knows everybody. When they have a horse that’s not quite capable of competing out there, but still capable they’ll come to him and let him know. They’ll put a price on the horse and if it’s a fair price and the horse fits our needs we’ll buy them.
“Nobody is a magician. If a horse has serious problems, time off might be the only way to fix them. But, I take good care of my horses. In my barn, the bedding is about knee high. I keep my horses happy, fit, and run them where they belong. These horses are athletes. I treat them that way. That’s the key to my success.
“I have 15 horses in training right now. I’d like to get a few more. I would be comfortable with 20 to 25. When I go back to Canterbury next summer, I’ll probably have 25. But, people don’t really know me here so it’s difficult getting new business.”
If Mr. Brinson keeps winning the way he has been, getting new clients shouldn’t be a problem for long.
Live racing at Hawthorne takes place five days a week and concludes Sunday, December 30. Live racing will be conducted every Wednesday-Sunday. First post daily is 2:10 pm. Hawthorne Race Course is located in Stickney IL at 3501 S. Laramie Ave. For information on live racing or groups at Hawthorne Race Course, contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700 or visit Hawthorne online at www.Hawthorneracecourse.com.