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Summer Mayberry is a trainer for all seasons

Jan 29, 2002 3:47 AM

Summer Mayberry has a pony that’s almost as old as she is.

If any testimony is needed to prove the Mayberry family’s love of animals, that’s it.

Their care of God’s creatures goes back almost a century, to 1903, when their great-grandfather, John Pierpont Mayberry, trained Judge Himes to win the 29th Kentucky Derby. The value of the race back then was $6,000. The winner earned $4,800.  Much has changed in the world since, but not the tradition of horses in the Mayberry lineage.

Summer’s father, the late Brian Mayberry, was a successful trainer for decades before succumbing to cancer in July of 1998. Summer’s mother, Jeanne, was her husband’s life-long assistant and trained for a short time after Brian’s death, but now tends a horse farm in Ocala, Florida. Summer’s sister, April, 35, was a trainer based in Kentucky and cared for Bob Baffert’s two Kentucky Derby winners, Silver Charm and Real Quiet, at Churchill Downs, until the trainer would arrive from California. She now assists her mother. Brian’s father, J.P. Mayberry II, son of the Derby-winning trainer, is still alive at age 95 and lives with his wife in Ocala. He trained for 75 years.

“The most important thing I’ve learned from my mom and dad is that the horses always come first,” said Summer, 31. “Treat them right and it pays off. Both my parents were animal lovers, my dad especially. He treated any animal just like he did his kids, and he taught us to treat them as you would any person.”

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Although a low-profile trainer with less than a dozen horses, Summer is respected by peers and wagering aficionados alike. Last year she won 13 races from 71 starts for 18 percent, a winning average most trainers would envy. And Summer has been training for only eight years.

“Most of my owners are working people,” Summer said. “They work five days a week and racing is their only hobby, so I’ve been geared toward the lower claiming horses and the bargain basement-type horses. But over the last year, one owner, Seven Pin Stable, spent $62,500 to claim Kinetic Bend, who has won twice in four starts since the claim, and they’ve given me a couple high-priced 2-year-olds. Another owner, John Deeter, has a horse named Continental Lu. We plan to run him in the Pro or Con Handicap on Saturday. I also have a new client, Robert Rupert, who paid $350,000 for a September yearling that just turned two. His name is Rockin’ Chair, by Dixieland Band out of a stakes-winning mare. He’s due at Santa Anita next month.”

Summer gets to know a horse by more than simply feeding it a carrot in the stall. In the mornings, she gallops the horses she trains.

“It makes a big difference,” she says. “I prefer being hands-on. That’s the most enjoyable part of my day. It’s always been that way, since I was five years old when I got my start with show horses. That’s when I learned how to ride. My mom taught me on a pony we still have. He’s a year younger than I am, so he’s 30. His name is Misty Star and he’s still trucking in Florida. He was in California, but when my mom sold the house here and bought the farm in Florida, she took Misty Star with her. He’s part of the family.”

Summer  currently has 11 horses in training at Santa Anita.

“That’s a good number for me,” she says. “I think if I had more than 11, it would be hard for me to be hands-on.”

And being “hands-on” is in the Mayberry blood.

“My grandfather (Jeanne’s father), Sam Saunderson, was a trainer,” Summer said. “He came over from Ireland. He was a horse dentist, a blacksmith and trainer, but he did just about anything to earn money. My mother came from a poor family, and her mom and dad would perform on weekends to make ends meet. My grandmother used to sit in an old army jeep and my grandfather would jump a horse over the jeep while she was sitting in it. They made $50 for that.”

Summer says there is no logical explanation to their parents naming her and her sister after a season and a month.

“I was born in November and April was born in October,” Summer said, “so I don’t know how they came up with our names.”

But anyway you look at it, when it comes to horses, the Mayberrys are a family for all seasons.

THE HOMESTRETCH: The California Horse Racing Board last Thursday approved applications by XpressBet and TVG to operate Advance Deposit Wagering systems, enabling account holders to legally bet on races in California and other jurisdictions. Bettors will have to open two accounts, however, because Magna Entertainment, which operates XpressBet, and TVG could not reach a compromise. To place wagers at Los Alamitos, Hollywood Park, Del Mar Fairplex and Oak Tree, as well as out-of-state locations, bets must be placed through TVG, which is aligned with Churchill Downs, Incorporated. Bettors wishing to wager on races at Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park, along with other tracks owned by Magna, must use XpressBet.

“This is only the beginning,” TVG president Mark Wilson told the Los Angeles Times. “But it’s an important step toward raising interest and awareness of horse racing in California.” That’s a relief. For a minute there, I thought an important aim of ADW was making money . . . Got The Message grabbed a quarter on the outside of his left fore when he stumbled two strides out of the gate as the 4-5 favorite last Thursday and will miss two weeks of training. “The cut was the size of a silver dollar, and he had three other nicks,” trainer Bill Spawr said of the 3-year-old son of Memo. “Usually, when a horse does that, he doesn’t run at all during the race, but he was only beaten a length and a half.” . . . Jockey Garrett Gomez and trainer Jack Carava will answer questions and autograph pictures at the Orleans race book starting 9 a.m. on Monday, March 4.