Weatherford Democrat

Local News

September 20, 2011

Local winner

Brock trainer wins third All-American

WEATHERFORD — When favorite and fastest-qualifier Ochoa charged to victory in the Grade 1, $2.4 million All-American Futurity on Labor Day in Ruidoso Downs, his trainer, Dwayne “Sleepy” Gilbreath, of Brock, was in the stands, urging him on.

“Yes, I thought he could win,” Gilbreath said, “I was a nervous wreck. They’ve got to have a good trip, to get away from the gate good and not get run over by another horse.

“He couldn’t have had a better trip.”

Ochoa, a gelding, won $1.2 million in the world’s richest quarterhorse race, clocking 21.058 seconds for the 440 yards, the fourth-fastest time in the race’s 53 runnings.

It was the third All American Futurity win for Gilbreath, who scored his first win with On a High in 1983 and his second in 1990 with two-time world champion Refrigerator, the leading money earner of any quarter horse until this year, Gilbreath said.

“He was probably the fastest horse I’ve ever trained,” Gilbreath, who has spent “34 or 35” years at Ruidosa, said. “He was a live wire, not cool and calm like Ochoa.”

Gilbreath has been in the winner’s circle at Ruidoso at least 24 times during those years, coaching horses that have topped all the major stakes races.

Three years ago, he was inducted into the Racehorse Hall of Fame in Ruidoso Downs for training winners of the Ruidoso Futurity, Ruidoso Derby, Rainbow Futurity, Rainbow Derby, All-American Futurity and All-American Derby.

“I’ve just surrounded myself with good people and good horses,” he said when asked to share the secret of his success. “There are several people who have helped me a lot.”

Gilbreath, 64, grew up in a small town east of Dallas and said it seems he has been training horses all his life.

“Mother used to want to skin me up,” he said. “Instead of going to school, I wanted to be out with the horses. It’s all I’ve ever cared about.”

His nickname, “Sleepy,” comes from a farrier he used to work for as a kid.

“I would hold horses for him, and it was the most boring job,” he said. “The guy was hard on me.”

Gilbreath began to get more involved in training horses in the 1970s, he said, and then started doing it for the public.

His adult career picked up speed when he was employed by B.F. Phillips on a ranch in Frisco.

“He was one of the best horsemen I ever knew,” Gilbreath said. “He put his whole heart and soul into racing racehorses and running them.

“I was lucky enough to get started there, surrounded by good horses.”

Gilbreath moved to Brock about 13 years ago, establishing Gilbreath Racing Stable, Inc. on approximately 20 acres.

He has about 20 horses in training there, but said some trainers are much bigger, accepting as many as 200 horses.

Gilbreath has a little country track, he said, where horses learn how to break from racing gates and get physically fit and “mentally right.”

“I guess the hardest part is getting them mannered,” Gilbreath said, “accepting people and just riding good.”

It takes about five months of training to get a horse ready to race, he said.

“You can get emotionally involved, like friends,” Gilbreath said, when asked to describe the relationship between trainer and horse, “With this horse [Ochoa] it was easy to like him. He has a real good disposition.”

The characteristic that puts a racehorse over the top is a “will to win” Gilbreath said, that has nothing to do with training.

“That caliber of horse, there are very few of them,” he said. “They would give their life to win a race. They’re bred that way, with a lot of heart.

“You may not see it [in them] until you’ve had four or five races.”

Do horses know when they win? “I think they do,” he said.

In his years of working with racehorses, Gilbreath has observed that breeding for speed seems to result in animals with less bone and inadequate feet.

“With racehorses you look for athletic ability,” he said, “but 75 percent are not sound enough to go on and do what they should.”

Gilbreath also believes that horses are run too young, before their bodies are mature enough to stand up to the rigors of the track.

“But that’s the way it’s always been,” he said.   

Ochoa is owned by the partnership of Johnny T.L. Jones Jr.’s J Bar 7 Ranch, Monty and Katsy Cluck with Doug and Shavon Benson.

The horse’s All-American Futurity victory ended a three- to four-year dry spell for Gilbreath, who took home the standard trainer’s cut of ten percent of the purse.

His satisfaction, however, was marred by an accident two days before the race that paralyzed jockey Jacky Martin, who is still hospitalized. Roy Baldillez rode the horse instead.

“A few days before the race I said I wanted to win it for [owner and longtime friend] Johnny,” Gilbreath said. “When Jacky got hurt, I said I wanted to win it for him. He qualified the horse. If he’d been on him, it would have been his eighth All-American win.”

Gilbreath said that the future looks “very good” for Ochoa, and care will be taken to keep him in good shape.

“We’re going to try not to run this horse too much,” Gilbreath said, “We may ease him along with the goal of going back and participating in the All-American Derby.”

The pot is projected to reach about $2 million for the race next year, he said.

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