Trainer Profile - Young trainer proves a quick "Lerner"

Andrew Lerner looks like he just stepped off the pages of  GQ .  At 29, six feet tall, 180 pounds and hazel eyes, he oozes subtle masculinity and innate innocence, bearing the attributes of an NFL tight end.  Picture Superman and Clark Kent or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  But beneath that demure demeanor lies his true countenance, horse trainer, body and soul.  It was not a matter of if, but when it would happen.  “I created a couple of businesses that fortunately did well, and that put me in a position to buy some horses,” Lerner said. “I sent them to trainer Mike Pender with the caveat that I wanted to learn to train.  “I started a company with a friend of mine in 2012 and we did well; I sold half of it, not for a fortune, but for enough where I was able to buy a horse named Be a Lady and give it to Pender.  “That’s how it all began. She’s still racing.  “I told Mike I wanted to learn how to train, came out every morning at 4:30, shadowed his grooms and hot walkers for about a year and a half, then decided I wanted to learn how to ride, not at the track but somewhere else, just to get an idea of what the jocks and exercise riders were talking about when they got off a horse and told us how it went.  “I wanted to understand first-hand what they were explaining, more than just hearing their words. After that, it took me about six months to get my trainer’s license in March of last year.  “It was a small stable initially, just me, a groom and two horses. Now we’re up to about 22 head.”  Lerner came to Pender’s barn every morning, not with a chip on his shoulder but a thirst for knowledge.  Thus, Pender readily recognized that Lerner would triumph against the odds. His acuity was ever present.  “He won a race with the first horse we claimed together, and we were off and running,” said Pender, 52, a Los Angeles native whose major stakes winners in a career approaching 15 years include Jeranimo and Ultimate Eagle.  “When he told me he wanted to train, I asked why he would do such a crazy thing, and he was emphatic. He said he wanted to, and I knew how he felt because I had been in his shoes at one time.  “I told him he was going to fail more than he’d succeed and tried to talk him out of it, but he stood his ground. Even after I told him the only way to succeed was through hard work and spending a lot of money—some of it coming out of his own pocket when owners don’t pay and walk away leaving you high and dry with a $10,000 feed bill—he remained firm.  “He gave the right answers to all my questions, but most importantly, he showed up every morning. I’ve had a lot of guys walk through my doors saying they want to become trainers, and I feel a responsibility for them to achieve that goal, because it’s trainers who bring in new owners.  “Obviously, we need them—what with the current shortage of racing stock. The last thing we want to see is more three-horse fields.  “Andrew’s most important concession was acknowledging he knew nothing. He didn’t try to act like some hot-shot city slicker, walking in like he knew more than anybody else.  “He was humble and displayed that trait throughout. As much as he tried to impress that upon me, I was interested in learning what he did know. He showed me he had good character, and at the end of the day, that’s all we really have.  “I figured if he couldn’t train a lick and couldn’t figure it out down the road, his character would carry him through, and by trial and error he would learn how to get a horse ready to win a race.  “Apparently, he’s a quick study because he won three races at Del Mar’s summer meet and didn’t have that many starters. He’s a smart kid, a modest guy who maintained he knew nothing during the whole process. I take that as a sign of high intelligence.  “Seems to me it’s stupid and naive people who are full of confidence and think they’re going to come in and take the world by storm.”  Pender knows whereof he speaks. He was the first in his family to earn college degrees, a bachelor’s from the University of California Santa Barbara and a master’s in psychology from Pepperdine. He taught for a spell, had a cup of coffee in clinical work as a counselor, but was enamored with racing from the time he came to Santa Anita at age six.  Ditto for Andrew Lerner.  “I’ve been coming to the track since I was six years old so it’s always been in my blood,” he said. “It’s something I’ve loved. Being at the track with my family and watching the horses run was always very enjoyable.  “Later, coming to the track on my own and watching how training evolved had an impact you can’t absorb as a casual fan seeing a horse in a race for just a minute and nine seconds. It’s fun as a fan, but to actually participate in the day-to-day training regimen—the hard work and preparation that go into getting a horse race-ready—is incredible.  “I emphasize to both my current and prospective owners that they be at the barn 4:30 every morning to see our daily routine. Understanding what goes in to training produces a sense of gratification when one of our horses wins that otherwise might not be realized.”  A Californian through and through, Lerner was born in Thousand Oaks and raised in Agoura Hills. He learned from the ground up, mucking stalls, working as a hot walker and doing the basics for about a year.  His father, Ross, and mother, Nancy, have been married 44 years. “My dad owns a recruiting company in LA that helps athletes find jobs after their college careers are over, and my mother is a psychologist in Westlake Village,” said Lerner, whose one sister, Sara, resides in Manhattan.  But sports were always on his radar screen.  “I played baseball growing up through Agoura High School, and in college, at Arizona State, I boxed at 147 pounds—did that for about seven years and had several amateur fights.  “While at Arizona State, I studied land development and commercial real estate and did that for about five years before I started the company with my buddy, and did that for about four and a half years before going to the track full time.  “When I started as an owner, I was with Little Red Feather Racing and other partners, but then went on my own. I’d gather information from jockeys who were riding and working my horses, and soon began getting on horses myself in the mornings to learn first hand what they felt like.  “That way I could fully grasp what jockeys were telling me after they worked a horse. After about two years with Mike and transitioning through various stages, I decided to take my licensing test. That process took about four-and-a-half months.  “In March of last year, I finally got my license.”  That accomplished, Lerner joined others in racing of the Jewish faith—a select group, most notably Barry Abrams, Walter Blum, Bobby Frankel, Bill Harmatz, Max Hirsch, William (Buddy) Hirsch, Hirsch Jacobs, Walter Miller, Howard Tesher and Marty Wolfson.  Racing’s passion and dedication run deep and long, whether you’re a fresh face at 29 or a Hall of Fame trainer in the homestretch of a legendary career like 86-year-old Ron McAnally, who’s still a fixture on the Southern California circuit in this—his sixth decade on the beat.  “When I got started, no one wanted to send me horses, and that’s understandable,” Lerner said. “You have to earn their respect, so I had to put my money where my mouth was; and I did.  “An owner named Jack Schwartz got me involved with my first horse when I was 16. I was working at Johnny Rockets to pay for the horse.” (Johnny Rockets is a vanishing 1950s-style burger and fries eatery in the throes of succumbing to McDonalds, Burger King, Arby’s and their ilk).  “Jack wanted to own half of the horse, but I didn’t want to train for anyone else. He insisted, however, so we claimed a horse called Jill Madden (bred by long-time California owner/breeder Nick Alexander, now president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California). She wound up winning two races for us.  “Jack was my first owner, and later more came on board—the major ones being John Andersen and Jason Bailey who campaign as Vindicate Racing. John called me, liked what I was doing, liked that I was a young trainer, and they wanted to get more involved. I waited three months for the right opportunity before claiming their first horse, Brandothebartender (who on Oct. 20 won the California Flag Stakes for current trainer Craig Dollase after he claimed him for $50,000).  “Brandothebartender won for us at Del Mar, made some money, and it catapulted our relationship; so they were instrumental in my success to date,” Lerner continued. “Vindicate claimed about nine horses in a span of six weeks, and I think we won with 40 percent and were in the money with about 60 percent. It’s been an incredible run.”  And if Lerner has his druthers, it’s likely to continue. He always has his antenna raised hoping to lure new owners.  “I think it’s paramount to bring new owners into the game,” he said.  “That’s why I’ve formed some unique partnerships such as The Del Mar Summer Racing Club, where we brought in 16 new owners who had never been involved in racing before. They won with a filly named Drift Away.  “But relatively speaking, when it comes to attracting new owners, there’s not as much innovation now as there used to be. I think we have to initiate new ideas, entice younger people to come into the game, bring them to the track and let them see what it’s all about.  “I was not only focused on doing well at the barn but tried to get as many new people involved as possible and fall in love with the game, because I’ve never had anyone come out to the track and say they hated it.  “Once they’re here, they love it. Some had never been to Santa Anita before, even though like me, they’ve lived in the area and the track is only 15 miles away.”  Lerner’s main magnet towards increasing the incredible shrinking nucleus of owners is social media.  “It’s been huge for me,” he said, “but people who have been in the game a long time are not privy to social media and don’t understand it, and I don’t blame them.  “However, it is a new way to bring people into racing, and that’s how I got so many new owners. It may sound silly, but I think social media is most important.”  Despite his matinee idol good looks, Lerner never had aspirations for modeling or acting. Those two vocations didn’t enter his mind.  “You could tell on my first two TV interviews that I was nervous,” he said. “I’m not used to being in front of the camera for pictures or anything like that. I never really even thought about it.”  Never say never, kid.  If you don’t make it in the winner’s circle, there’s always Hollywood.

By Ed Golden

Andrew Lerner looks like he just stepped off the pages of GQ.

At 29, six feet tall, 180 pounds and hazel eyes, he oozes subtle masculinity and innate innocence, bearing the attributes of an NFL tight end.

Picture Superman and Clark Kent or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

But beneath that demure demeanor lies his true countenance, horse trainer, body and soul.

It was not a matter of if, but when it would happen.

“I created a couple of businesses that fortunately did well, and that put me in a position to buy some horses,” Lerner said. “I sent them to trainer Mike Pender with the caveat that I wanted to learn to train.

“I started a company with a friend of mine in 2012 and we did well; I sold half of it, not for a fortune, but for enough where I was able to buy a horse named Be a Lady and give it to Pender.

“That’s how it all began. She’s still racing.

“I told Mike I wanted to learn how to train, came out every morning at 4:30, shadowed his grooms and hot walkers for about a year and a half, then decided I wanted to learn how to ride, not at the track but somewhere else, just to get an idea of what the jocks and exercise riders were talking about when they got off a horse and told us how it went.

“I wanted to understand first-hand what they were explaining, more than just hearing their words. After that, it took me about six months to get my trainer’s license in March of last year.

“It was a small stable initially, just me, a groom and two horses. Now we’re up to about 22 head.”

Lerner came to Pender’s barn every morning, not with a chip on his shoulder but a thirst for knowledge.

Thus, Pender readily recognized that Lerner would triumph against the odds. His acuity was ever present.

“He won a race with the first horse we claimed together, and we were off and running,” said Pender, 52, a Los Angeles native whose major stakes winners in a career approaching 15 years include Jeranimo and Ultimate Eagle.

ZAM_1052.jpg

“When he told me he wanted to train, I asked why he would do such a crazy thing, and he was emphatic. He said he wanted to, and I knew how he felt because I had been in his shoes at one time.

“I told him he was going to fail more than he’d succeed and tried to talk him out of it, but he stood his ground. Even after I told him the only way to succeed was through hard work and spending a lot of money—some of it coming out of his own pocket when owners don’t pay and walk away leaving you high and dry with a $10,000 feed bill—he remained firm.

“He gave the right answers to all my questions, but most importantly, he showed up every morning. I’ve had a lot of guys walk through my doors saying they want to become trainers, and I feel a responsibility for them to achieve that goal, because it’s trainers who bring in new owners.

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Changing hemispheres

In conversation with Jim Lawson - Mr Woodbine

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