Steve Hobby's breakout meet at Oaklawn Park this spring may not include a training title, but Hobby was conceding nothing in late March when he trailed defending Oaklawn champion Steve Asmussen, the runaway national leader in both victories and earnings, by just two wins, 21-19.
"I would love to be
leading trainer, but realistically, he's just so powerful right now,"
Hobby said with 2 ½ weeks left in the Oaklawn meet. "I'm going to try to
Even if he doesn't, Hobby's Oaklawn meet was dazzling right from the start when he posted five wins, 11 seconds and four thirds in the first 11 days, validating his decision to nearly double his stable size from 25 to 40.
"This is home for us," the 51-year-old trainer said. "A lot of our clients live in this area. They're in the stands every day. So it's a big deal for us to do good. We gear up for this meet."
It shows. On March 15th Isabull finished third in the $300,000 Grade 2 Rebel Stakes, stamping his ticket to the $1 million Grade 1 Arkansas Derby for Hobby's biggest client, Alex Lieblong, the president of a financial advisory firm in Little Rock. Lieblong and his wife Joann continue to purchase well-bred yearlings and two-year-olds hoping to latch onto a Kentucky Derby starter.
The very next afternoon, Hobby recorded his first training triple at Oaklawn Park, winning with Real Officer and Wolf Branch for the Lieblongs and with Mama's Lil'Mon, one of five horses Hobby claimed at the meet for Bill Hardin, a retired FBI agent, and his wife, Jane.
Hobby's other major owner is Carol Ricks, who campaigned the retired million-dollar earner Chindi and now concentrates on breeding, though she also races. "Right now, I've got a nice situation," Hobby said. "Alex is a high-end buyer, Bill Hardin likes claiming and Carol is a breeder."
Chindi, who retired three years ago at the age of 11, has discovered a second career as Hobby's stable pony. "He likes that," Hobby said. "He's really happy. He raced for nine years. It's the only thing he knows."
Hobby, too. He grew up in Englewood, Colorado, where he learned the horse business from his dad, Gerald, a trainer who became a steward. Hobby worked for his dad, then rode for four years before turning to training in 1976. He started out with Quarter Horses in the late 1970s in Colorado and New Mexico, then transitioned to Thoroughbreds thanks to Ricks'late husband, Ran. "I got fortunate and hooked up with Ran Ricks," Hobby said. "He got me out of New Mexico and into this part of the world." Hobby ran Ricks'farm and trained his stable for several years before adding on new clients. After training at Oaklawn Park from 1985 through 1988, Hobby raced at Remington Park in Oklahoma when it opened in 1988 and returned to Hot Springs in the early ‘90s. He and his wife, Metzie bought a house in Hot Springs seven years ago.
Hobby has trained multiple major stakes winners Brush With Pride and Belle of Cozzene, and hopes to add Isabull to the list. "He's still very immature; he's still learning," Hobby said. "I think he's got a lot of room for improvement."
If he improves enough to make an impact in the Arkansas Derby, Hobby could have a starter in this year's Kentucky Derby. "I hope I have that decision to make," he said.
He is not weighing a decision to move away from Oaklawn Park. "I love it here," he said.
When Oaklawn closes in mid-April, Hobby shifts his stable to Arlington, then to Churchill Downs and Prairie Meadows.
If his stable continues to prosper, he may be moving to higher-profile meets. "When you win, people notice you," he said. "My wife and I can go anywhere. We'll go anywhere our horses take us."