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Book Review

The Training Game: An Inside Look at American Racing's Top Trainers
by Karen M. Johnson
DRF Press, April 2009, 192 pages hardcover

Thoroughbred racing is well known for its interesting human and equine characters. In recent years, trainers have taken a more prominent place in the eyes of the public, especially the so-called "super-trainers" who seem to be able to win with any horse they have. In the latest DRF Press release, The Training Game, New York-based turfwriter and journalist Karen M. Johnson examines the lives and careers of eight of American racing's most accomplished active trainers. At the time of writing, the trainers she interviewed for the book have combined to win 13 Triple Crown races, 17 Breeders' Cup races, 36 divisional championships, and more than $861 million in purse earnings in North America.

The eight men Johnson chose for the book are all successful Thoroughbred racehorse trainers, but that is where the similarities end. They came from all parts of the country, from different walks of life, and got into the sport in different ways. Steve Asmussen and Rick Dutrow were born into racing families, but at the other extreme Carl Nafzger started off as a rodeo bull-rider, and Bobby Frankel, with no racing background at all, got a job as a hotwalker for 3 months then decided to take out a trainer's license. Like every other trainer in the world, they all had to start small and work their way up. Asmussen originally wanted to be a jockey like his brother Cash, but switched to training when he grew too large for the job. Todd Pletcher, with a degree in animal science, began as an assistant to his father J.J. in Texas, and then to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas before going out on his own.

The author, daughter of Hall of Fame trainer P.G. Johnson, both entertains and informs the fans of the sport in these eight profiles. In detailed chapters, resulting from very thorough interviews, each trainer offers his unique, invaluable insights on a specific, integral aspect of their stable operation. Nick Zito stables his best horses at Saratoga as long as possible, away from the crowds at Belmont and to take advantage of the deep Oklahoma training track. Neil Howard, as the private trainer for William Farish's Lane's End Farm, is in frequent contact with the owner, saying that training for Farish is "like training for another trainer". And Allen Jerkens' reputation as a "giant killer" came about because he isn't scared to take a shot against a highly regarded horse, rather than duck the competition. These masters of the craft will surprise and intrigue racing aficionados as they candidly reveal their systems and techniques.

Each chapter ends with a statistical summary of the subject trainer's career, listing the win percentage and ROI for the trainer angles found in the DRF past performances, Breeders' Cup and Triple Crown statistics, career summary through February 8, 2009, as well as records set and other notable achievements such as Hall of Fame induction year. Karen Johnson has done a masterful job telling the story about eight of racing's most successful trainers. They're all good at what they do, but how they got there and how they get the job done differ immensely, and this makes for a very entertaining read for any fan of horse racing, and could be useful in handicapping.

The Training Game has a list price of $24.95 and is available from for $16.47.

Rating:     4.5/5

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