Singing praises for horse racing's unsung heroes

Nov 21, 2017 3:00 AM

With all the focus on stakes races, multi-million dollar horses and high profile trainers and jockeys who dominate the headlines, this seems a good time to give some positive mention to a couple of underrated trainers, a very good jockey and a horse who made very positive impressions and might be in line for more recognition.

Specifically, how about trainer Karl Broberg, who rarely gets mentioned in the press or on TV despite the fact he has won more races than any other American trainer in each of the past four seasons, including this one.

Based mostly at Evangeline Downs and Delta Downs in rural Louisiana, Broberg won 325 races in 2014, 420 races in 2015 and 367 last year. Currently, Broberg has won 385 races for a 2017 lead of nearly 50 wins over Steven Asmussen, the Hall of Fame trainer who got his share of headlines all year and was on top of the world after he won the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 4 with probably Horse of the Year, Gun Runner.

Yet, for a little more perspective – especially for horseplayers who should pay attention to such things – Broberg hardly has been noticed anywhere outside Louisiana, while winning with more than 25 percent of the 5,700 horses he has sent to the post through the past four seasons!

Another trainer who made a positive impression on me this year is Peter Miller, who is beginning to get the recognition he deserves. Miller, in fact, surged in popularity while he was so effective during Del Mar’s summer meet. Actually, he is doing even better at Del Mar’s current, relatively short fall meet. While Miller does not rank among the top 15 winners of races this year, he does rank among the top dozen in purses won – with more than $6.5 million in the bank – and he’s gaining ground rapidly on the percentage of races he has been winning.

Specifically, Miller trained horses have been on fire at Del Mar this month. On Sunday, he won three races to raise his meet totals to 13 victories from 36 starters. This put Miller’s win percentage above 30% for the meet, so it will not be long before he cracks the top 15 in races won to go along with his strong earnings portfolio.

Should Miller continue to win at 20 percent or higher through the 2017-2018 Santa Anita winter meet, I am quite sure we’ll be reading a lot about him in Daily Racing Form and the southern California press.

Among jockeys who have had far more success without receiving the proper recognition, I nominate jockey Ramon A. Vasquez as a talent edging closer to a level of performance that top rated trainers will seek to ride good horses in major stakes. I believe this because I like the way R.A. handles almost any horse on any racing surface and distance. He demonstrated those skills when I took the time to watch him ride at Oaklawn Park the past few seasons and he doubled down on those positive impressions when he did great work aboard several over-matched horses at Delaware Park.

R.A.’s statistics also are encouraging. In 2017 for example, he fiercely held on to a win percentage above 23 percent – winning 227 races from 983 attempts. That ranks as the highest win ratio for any American jockey who rode at least 600 mounts this season. Moreover, Vasquez has not dipped below a 20 percent win percentage at any track during the past three seasons.

As for a horse who made a positive impression without earning the press he deserved, I believe Collected – the horse who finished second to Gun Runner in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic – was underrated through most of the year despite his excellent overall record.

Going into the BCup, Collected had won all four of his prior starts, including a win over 2016 Horse of the Year Arrogate in the $1 million Pacific Classic. Beyond that, Collected finished a solid second to the aforementioned Gun Runner in the Classic. His career record is eight wins from 12 starts, while surpassing $2 million in earnings and hitting Beyer Speed Figures of 115 and 114 in his last two starts.

Long considered the second stringer to his Bob Baffert trained stable-mate Arrogate, Collected finished 2017 better than every other horse in training other than Gun Runner. Yet, he was lost in the headlines made by the BC Classic winner and Arrogate’s failure in that important race.

But, should Collected come back to race in 2018, he just might prove to be the horse to beat for next year’s honors. Either way, he no longer will be underrated.

Added Notes: Last week I pointed out that some subtle adjustments had been made to both Del Mar racing surfaces. This week, there may have been additional adjustments made by the track maintenance crew. More races definitely were run true to form. Yet, horseplayers also should take note that the overall tendency for Del Mar races now seems to favor horses with the speed to lead or stalk the pace.