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Ranking the 10 Smartest Trainers in Horse Racing

Steve SilvermanFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 10, 2017

Ranking the 10 Smartest Trainers in Horse Racing

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    It's really a three-way partnership. The horse, trainer and jockey must all work together to win consistently at the race track.

    It requires diligent planning and conditioning by the trainer to get a horse prepared to run his best race at the right time. Trainers rely on their knowledge of horses, instincts and discipline to do their job well.

    It is often a tireless and thankless job for many trainers when they are in the early stages of their career. It requires long hours and attention to detail.

    A good trainer will help his horse peak on race day. Here's a look at the 10 smartest trainers in horse racing today.

10. John Sadler

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    John Sadler started training in 1978 and slowly worked his way up the ladder until he was one of the most-respected trainers in the field by the mid-1980s.

    Sadler has remained as an elite trainer since then and he has won multiple graded stakes races. He helped prepare Switch for in-the-money finishes in the 2010 and 2011 Breeders' Cup.

    Sadler has 2,044 victories in his career and earnings of more than $84 million. Sadler has been at his best in the last three years when his horses earned more than $20 million over that time.

    Sadler has become one of the most popular and effective West Coast trainers and many of his horses have been formidable.

9. Kiaran McLaughlin

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    Kiaran McLaughlin has become one of the top trainers in the world. This native Kentuckian has traveled all over the world to train horses and he came into his own in 2006 when his horses had more than $8.5 million in earnings.

    The next year he proved it was no fluke as his earnings went over the $9 million mark.

    McLaughlin is a fixture in New York racing. He excels at getting horses prepared for huge races, and he made his imprint on the sport in the 2005 Kentucky Derby, when his 71-1 shot Closing Argument made it to the lead before finishing second in the classic race.

    McLaughlin has 1,087 career victories and and earnings of more than $73 million.

8. Chad Brown

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    Chad Brown became one of the great stars of the horse training business during 2012. His mounts earned more than $11 million last year, a dramatic rise over 2011, when Brown's horses earned slightly more than $5.2 million.

    Brown is a two-time Breeders' Cup winner, but the best could be at hand for him with the Kentucky Derby looming. Brown trains fast-running Normandy Invasion, who finished second to Verrazano at the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in early April.

    Brown has 415 first-place finishes in his career and more than $24 million in earnings.

7. Doug O'Neill

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    Doug O'Neill survived a controversial suspension ruling last year to re-establish himself as one of the most effective trainers in the business.

    O'Neill saddled Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another last year, but he was also suspended 45 days after one of his horses was found to have a performance-enhancing substance in his system.

    O'Neill vehemently denied giving his horses any illegal substances and California racing officials agreed that the trainer was not guilty of doping. However, the suspension stood because the California rules state that the trainer is ultimately responsible for whatever is found in a horse's system.

    O'Neill has saddled 1,718 winners in his career and has more than $83 million in earnings. His 34 winners in 2013 have brought home nearly $2 million in earnings.

6. Rudy Rodriguez

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    Rudy Rodriguez has established himself as one of the top trainers in the business even though this is just his fourth full year as a head trainer.

    Rodriguez could be in for a ride to the top if his top charge Vyjack can make an impressive run and win the Kentucky Derby. Vyjack is currently being treated with an antibiotic after returning from his last race with a bit of a mucus problem, but it should not keep Rodriguez from getting him to the starting gate on race day.

    Rodriguez has won 362 races in his career and he has more than $13 million in earnings. The easy-going Rodriguez has won 45 races this year and earned $2.25 million.

5. William Mott

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    Bill Mott understands the business of preparing horses as well as anyone in the business. Mott has been training horses since 1973, but he really didn't hit the big time until 1984 when he had $2.4 million in earnings.

    Since then, Mott has been one of the most consistent winners in the business. He trained 2010 Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer, and he also won with that horse at the 2011 Breeder's Cup.

    Mott's main strength as a trainer is his discipline. He will not rush a horse to the track and have him race before he is ready. Other trainers might not wait as long as Mott, but he has to be sure the horse is prepared properly before he will let him race. That was the case when he prepared for Drosselmeyer for his 2011 Breeder's Cup race.

    “We gave him a lot of time,” Mott told the New York Times. “He had a couple of easy months off, didn’t do anything. We brought him back in the beginning of the year. He was fat and really kind of didn’t get in the rhythm the first two or three races.”

    Mott has won 4,296 races in his career with earnings of more than $213 million.

4. Jerry Hollendorfer

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    Jerry Hollendorfer is a Hall of Fame trainer who has been amazingly consistent. He has dominated racing in Northern California for 30 years and won 37 consecutive training titles through 2008.

    Through it all, Hollendorfer remains consistent and dedicated. He does not take any short cuts and his horses are often prepared perfectly for big races.

    Hollendorfer has won 6,378 races in his career and nearly $137 million for his career. Hollendorfer's horses have already won 71 races in 2013 and he has $2.7 million in earnings.

3. Steve Asmussen

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    Steve Asmussen has been training horses since 1986 and he has been one of the top trainers in the business since 1999.

    Asmussen is a driven man who can manage his horses at five different tracks at the same time, meaning he is as organized as he is passionate about the sport.

    Asmussen trained Curlin when he won the Preakness Stakes in 2007. He also trained Nehro to a second-place finish in the 2011 Kentucky Derby.

    Asmussen has won 6,431 races in his career and he has earned more than $203 million. He has already won 104 races in 2013.

2. Bob Baffert

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    Bob Baffert is a Hall of Fame trainer and one of the biggest names in the business.

    Baffert has trained four Preakness Stakes winners and he has also saddled a Kentucky Derby winner in War Emblem and Belmont Stakes winner Real Quiet.

    Baffert made his way in the business as a quarter-horse trainer before moving to thoroughbreds. He has been one of the dominant trainers in the business since 1990.

    Baffert has a great eye for finding talented horses. "Bob Baffert has an uncannily sharp eye for horseflesh," said award-winning journalist William Nack. "Nobody has more manifest gifts as a horse whisperer than Baffert"

    Baffert earned more than $15 million last year and he remains in tremendous form this year. Baffert's horses have won 37 races this year and he has $4.1 million in earnings.

1. Todd Pletcher

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    Todd Pletcher is simply a dominant trainer. His horses have earned more than $61 million in the last three full racing years and he is not slowing down in 2013. His horses have won 64 races and earned more than $6.2 million.

    Pletcher won the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver and the 2007 Belmont Stakes with Rags to Riches. He also has four second-place finishes in Triple Crown races.

    Pletcher has saddled 3,259 winners in his career and his earnings have reached the $239 million level.

    He could be on track for a huge year since he trains Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano. Like many of Pletcher's best horses, Verrazano likes to stalk from just off the pace and then turn it on down the stretch.

    Verrazano won the Wood Memorial and that was Pletcher's third victory in that Derby prep race in the last four years.

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