Trainers follow Ben Franklin’s motto: Sleep, rise early

February 12, 2002 5:20 AM
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Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

So said Benjamin Franklin more than two centuries ago, but truth be known, it ain’t necessarily so these days, especially in the world of horse training.

“I get up at 4, every single day,” said John Sadler, 45, a successful trainer for more than two decades. “I’m at the track about 5.”

“There mornings I don’t want to get out of bed. That happens on a daily basis,” Sadler said, chuckling. “I don’t need an alarm clock any more, but I have one. After a while, you get to love getting up early, because it’s a great time of day. It’s quiet and it’s beautiful. I live near the Rose Bowl (in Pasadena) and last Christmas I was going to work and saw these great deer, so early morning can be a special time of the day.”

“With horses, you have to be on time. It’s not like working in a shop, where you can switch with a fellow employee. Horses need care every day, so you get there every day. I’ve had days where I was running late or the car didn’t work, but you figure a way to get there. Eighty percent of of this job is getting up. If you’re a late night party guy, you’re going to wash yourself out pretty quick. The hours are such that you have a lot of horses to get out and only x-amount of hours to do it. If you miss the track by 10 (when it closes for training), forget it.

“One day I was leaving for work and I put a bunch of stuff on the top of my car, drove to work and realized I had left it there. It was horses’ papers so I had to go back and dig through the street to find them. Some mornings, you’re barely awake.”

Stanford graduate Bob Hess Jr., 36, has been training for more than 15 years. His father, Bob Sr., still trains on the Northern California circuit.

“I wake up at 4:30 by my alarm, but even if it doesn’t go off, I get up at 4:45 regardless,” Hess said. “It’s just a matter of habit. But I’m asleep by 9, 9:30, so I get plenty of sleep. I don’t think it’s that tough on your body, but I’ve heard that some trainers take naps in the afternoon. I never have.

“But in the winter, or when it’s raining, coming out early is a pain, because you have to be out in the cold, or the cold and the wet. That’s the only difficult part. Getting up early isn’t a problem, but doing it seven days a week can be, because your body can wear down. So every now and then you need extra sleep to refuel it.

“I am late sometimes, but I have a great staff, so if I am late, it doesn’t compromise our barn’s productivity. There are mornings I don’t want to get out of bed, in the winter more than in the summer, but really, you’ve got to be here. I have a barn full of great horses and I have great clients, so it makes getting up early that much easier. The only hard part about what I do is losing. But getting up and not sleeping much goes with the territory. I was born into this, so I don’t know any better.”

Vladimir Cerin has little problem being an early bird.

“It would be a lot tougher if I got up early six days a week, then slept late the seventh,” the 47-year-old trainer says. “That would make the eighth day tough. But I’m used to the consistency.

“I haven’t used an alarm clock in 20 years. I usually get up around 3, either get on the computer or watch the early news and have a cup of tea. Then I get to the track between 5 and 5:30 to check my horses. I have a crew that’s been with me a long time. Eveything’s organized by the time I get there and they give me all the bad news first and I go from there.

“I hit the sack anywhere from 9 to 11 at night, but it doesn’t really matter. When I go back east, I still get up at 4 in the morning their time. If I’m in New York, I’m one of the first trainers at the track there.”

Still, his schedule does not always run like clockwork.

“About six months ago,” Cerin said, “we lost power in our neighborhood and I have an electric gate, so I couldn’t get my car out until the power came back on. It lasted about half an hour.”

The story goes that the late Hall of Fame trainer Laz Barrera once drew criticism from contemporaries Charlie Whittingham and Noble Threewitt for not hitting the barns before the crack of dawn every morning like they did.

Barrera had the perfect squelch. “I’m a horse trainer,” he told them. “Not a night watchman.”

THE HOMESTRETCH: Bobby Frankel, on how Kent Desormeaux regained the Hall of Fame trainer’s favor and began to ride for him again: “He forced his way back,” Frankel said. “He kept working and working and working, and I kept turning him down, turning him down, till finally I gave in. He wore me down.” Frankel explains Desormeaux resurgent success simply: “He’s getting good horses and he’s got his confidence up.” . . . Labamta Babe will miss the Triple Crown races due to a strained supensory ligament.