Val Brinkerhoff - CTT Trainer Profile

  By ED GOLDEN    The Santa Anita stable notes for April 14th (as written by Ed Golden) succinctly summarize that Val Brinkerhoff is one of the faceless trainers who drives the game.    He might be light years from being in a league with the Bafferts, Browns, and Pletchers but pound for pound, the 62-year-old Brinkerhoff has one of the most industrious operations in the land, flying beneath the radar while gaining respect from peers and bettors alike.    He’s an angular version of John Wayne, cowboy hat and all, but without the girth and swagger, Brinkerhoff is a hands-on horseman from dawn till dusk.    He is a former jockey who gallops his own horses, be they at Santa Anita, Del Mar, Turf Paradise in Arizona, or his training center in St. George, Utah, where he breaks babies and legs up older horses that have been turned out.    In short, Val Brinkerhoff is a man’s man, pilgrim.    It all began when he was 14 in a dot on the map called Fillmore, Utah, current population circa 2,500.    Named for the 13th President of the United States, Millard Fillmore, it was the capital of Utah from 1851 to 1856. The original Utah Territorial Statehouse building still stands in the central part of the state, 148 miles south of Salt Lake City and 162 miles north of St. George.    But enough of history.    “My dad trained about 30 horses when we lived in Fillmore,” said Brinkerhoff, a third-generation horseman. “I would ride a pony up and down a dirt road outside our house every day, and that’s how I learned to gallop horses.    “There was no veterinarian in Fillmore, so you had to learn how to be a vet on your own, on top of everything else, because it was 300 miles round trip to a vet. So, if something was wrong, you had to figure it out for yourself without having to run to Salt Lake and back every five minutes.    “I was 5’ 10’’ and weighed 118 pounds and rode at the smaller venues, mainly in Utah but also Montana, where I was leading rider, and Wyoming and California (Fairplex Park in Pomona). I’ll never forget the day my dad took me to Pomona. I walked in the jocks’ room and immediately became aware of how tall I was.    “While in California, Bill Shoemaker gave me one of his whips, which I cherished. I rode many winners with it. Towards the end of my father’s life, my son, Ryan, asked him if he had any regrets. He said he had one.”     His father said, “I should have taken Val to the big tracks in California and given him the chance to make it there. He had the desire and the talent.”    Brinkerhoff also rode in Utah at outposts with names that sound contrived, like Beaver, Richfield, Marysvale, Kanab, Parowan, Ferron, Payson, and Panguitch.    “But ultimately,” he said, “I couldn’t make the weight. I was already skinny and at 5-10 and 118 pounds, didn’t have an ounce to lose.    “I rode in the bushes like that for 35 years, because I couldn’t go on a bigger circuit at that weight. Eventually, I quit horseracing all together for about three years after I got hit by a Greyhound bus and broke my back.    “I wound up buying land in the south end of Fillmore and built a Chevron gas station that had an automotive garage and repair shop. I also bought an Arby’s Restaurant and later a hotel.     “This was where our kids learned to work and develop customer service skills they put to good use today. My back finally got better, and it was during that time, 13 years ago, my two little brothers died from Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”     The medical term is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, a progressive neurological disease that controls voluntary muscle movement. It is informally called Lou Gehrig’s Disease after the great New York Yankee first baseman who died of the illness at age 37 on June 2, 1941.    Gehrig’s indelible and transcendent farewell speech reverberated through the three tiers of old Yankee Stadium before 61,808 fans on Appreciation Day nearly eight decades ago, on July 4, 1939. It included the most memorable parting words in the history of any sport: “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”    Brinkerhoff’s family, too, soldiered on. “Brad was 45 and Todd was 42 when they died, and it killed my mom,” he said. “She had a heart attack because she wasn’t able to help her boys, got all stressed out and couldn’t handle it. I lost my mom and two brothers within a year.    “My dad was still there and we were really a close family. All of us were involved in racing horses our whole lives and that helped pull us through.     “My brothers had horses but their wives didn’t want them, so I bought them and started working with my dad again around 2005 after my back had healed. Then I got pissed off at Chevron Oil because they were screwing me on the price of gas all the time, so I sold my place and went back to racing horses. I took out my trainer’s license in Phoenix in 2006, and we raced in Northern California and Pomona a lot.”    Fast forward to summer, 2018.     Val and his wife, Kelly, both Mormons who live by the creed of truth, justice, and the American way, celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary on July 14, holding fort in Southern California, where, like horsemen of similar ilk, they maintain a vice-like grip on a vestige of days gone by, when racing gods smiled on the game.    “I can’t believe she put up with me all these years,” Val said of Kelly, 59, an integral part of their operation. “She saved me from getting my butt kicked lots of times.    “She handles all the books, keeps the paperwork organized, pays the bills, orders supplies and medicines, and helps in the shedrow when needed. I do all the mechanical stuff.” Kelly also pampers the horses with occasional apples and peppermints, but more importantly, with love.    “They are my babies, especially when my grandkids aren’t around,” she said. “We have six grandkids and four children.”    To endure more than four decades, their marriage has overcome bumps in the road, but overall it is a devoted partnership Val and Kelly welcome, warts and all.    “We enjoy it,” she said, “although it’s a lot of hours and hard on him at 62, so anything I can do to help, I do. Like I tell my kids, who are all marrying age, it’s a lot of hills and valleys, ups and downs, and sometimes you think it can’t get better than what it is, but it does. It gets better.    “And sometimes you’re in the pits of despair, but it’s the good things that bind you together and keep you together.”    The Brinkerhoffs’ children are Ryan, 39; Amy, 36; Fallyn, 33, a dental hygienist; and the “baby,” Colt, 30. “Fallyn’s husband, Kale, is our son-in-law,” Kelly said. “He helps break the babies in St. George, and Fallyn’s probably the one who’s been most interested in horses, although they all have a connection and they all love them.     “My youngest son, Colt, is six feet two and could never be a jockey, but he’s a professional ATV (all-terrain vehicle) rider, and a champion in desert racing. His wife, Rachel, is a recent college graduate and a speech therapist.    “Ryan, the father of two, is an inventor who owns two businesses. Amy has two children and runs one of my son’s businesses.”    Both Val and Kelly are in full accord when they say, “We are blessed with a wonderful family.”    Turns out, however, even with such a unique name, Val Brinkerhoff isn’t the only Val Brinkerhoff on the planet. There’s another in the very same state where trainer Brinkerhoff was born.    “He’s a professor at Brigham Young University (in Provo) who teaches photography,” Brinkerhoff said of his namesake. "I'm on Facebook and he has a website, and I've had a lot of people call me thinking I was him, and when I owned my gas station in Fillmore, he actually came in and met me one time, but I don’t believe we’re related.”    “I’ve had people call me up wanting to know about photography, and I tell them, ‘I can’t help you.’”    Brinkerhoff isn’t in the high-rent district when it comes to day rates for trainers, the amount of money paid per day per horse. “I don’t get as much as those big shots,” he said. “It varies, depending on who you are. I get $85 a day, but I think I’m going to raise the price.    “I don’t have hotwalkers. I use walking machines in California and at my training center. I’ve never had any owners complain, as long as the horses go around okay. Even saving those costs, it still runs about $3,000 a month to maintain a horse, and that’s without unforeseen expenses.”    Of the 12 horses in Southern California and the 15 in St. George, some are owned in partnership with Bobby Wayne Grayson, a trainer in his own right. “I also have a few horses I took as compensation from owners who couldn’t pay their bill.    “I have eight employees at my two locations. It costs me $10,000 a month in Utah and $20,000 a month in California, so that’s $30,000 a month in overhead, including purchase of saddles and bridles and other equipment, cost of trailers or trucks that get broken, you name it.”    Brinkerhoff manages to stay in the black thanks in no small measure to his facility in St. George, where he has 20 horses for other clients, but when winter comes, will have 30 or more.    “I get $40 a day for each one, so we get by,” Brinkerhoff said in his ingratiating countrified twang. “We’re making the grade. We’ve got 40 stalls, a six-horse walker, and a six-furlong track. It’s two hours from Las Vegas and six from Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Turf Paradise. It’s really a nice facility.    “Unlike other parts of Utah, St. George doesn’t get as much bad weather, so we get there every couple of weeks and check on the babies and their progress. Our crew develops them from rookies into racehorses, and since Kelly and I are registered clockers, when we time horses, the works are official.    “I’ve got a little of my own money, too, and a couple of my own horses that I’ve done all right with.”    One was a son of Freespool bought for $1,300 at Barretts for a client who later decided he didn’t want the horse. When Val and his son-in-law, Kale, began to break and train him, they saw something special. He moved like he wasn’t touching the ground.    He was named Raetodandty after Val’s first three grandchildren, Reagan, Tod, and Tyler. Val sent him to trainer Bobby Troeger in California where he won the 2011 Green Flash Handicap at Del Mar, defeating 2010 Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Kinsale King. Long range plans called for Raetodandty to run in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, but during a workout, he chipped a sesamoid.    Following a lengthy recovery, Brinkerhoff brought him back to win a race at Pomona, with his own name on the program as trainer. Now retired in Tucson, Raetodandty earned nearly $250,000, not bad for a skinny yearling bought for $1,300.    Another success story was Our Pure Creation, a filly Brinkerhoff developed into a stakes winner after healing a tendon injury through a patient rehab program that included swimming at Turf Paradise.    Owned and bred in California by Joe Parker and sent off at 6-1, Our Pure Creation won the $100,000 California Distaff at Santa Anita in 2015, giving Brinkerhoff his first stakes win with his very first starter at the storied track. She is now a broodmare in Kentucky.    Horses, as most trainers will tell you, have their unique traits, and Brinkerhoff, hands on as he is, has “had lots of unusual situations.    “When I was riding, my dad had a filly that would flip over backwards in the gate all the time. She was vicious, but really, really fast going around the bullrings, where she set two track records in Montana. One time she flipped in the gate and knocked out all my teeth, tore the shirt off my back, and I wound up in the hospital.    “They got another jockey, he rode her and set a track record. We bought her out of a sale that used to be held at Hollywood Park. She was tough and fast but horrible in the gate.    “I’ve had horses that won’t guide, don’t want to go around the track, blow the turns, stuff like that, but I’ve been able to work it out of them in my training center. We’ve remedied a lot of problem horses.    “If horses were all the same, they’d be easy, but they’re not.”    There was a time when former jockeys Kenny Black and Cowboy Jack Kaenel worked at Brinkerhoff’s training center.    “They lived with my parents (Dan and Luree), helped us gallop horses, and rode in the bushes,” Brinkerhoff said.    Today, there is no rest for the weary, not only to flourish and prosper, but to break even. Passion and dedication drive the very fiber of their being as the Brinkerhoffs toil towards a goal that may never be realized. But toil they do.    Picture “The Grapes of Wrath.”    “I get to the track at 4:30 in the morning,” Brinkerhoff said. “At Santa Anita, we start galloping or jogging horses on the training track until the main track opens (at 6:30), then gallop and work there.    “Later the horses have their legs checked and are cleaned and bandaged by the grooms . . . but we’re not done until 10 o’clock. I’ve got four grooms and one guy who helps me gallop the horses.”    If Brinkerhoff runs a horse in the afternoon, that extends the day.    To further defray expenses, when racing at Santa Anita, the Brinkerhoffs live in a $450-a-month trailer park in Covina, some 10 miles from the track, moving the trailer to Del Mar during racing at the seaside oval.    “It’s a real challenge to make the nut every month,” Brinkerhoff said. “If you get one person who doesn’t pay his bill, it really screws you over when you’re a small operation and have to count every penny every month.    “Here I am galloping my own horses to save money, although I like to do it anyway, because I don’t like to stand around and bulls---. That drives me crazy. I’d rather be on the horses to see if there’s something wrong with them or if they’re ready to run.    “When I’m galloping a horse, if I sense something’s amiss I can stop right away before anything else goes wrong and not have to wait until someone brings the horse back to the barn.”    As to racing’s future, Brinkerhoff feels it’s in better shape nationally than in California. “Races seem to fill better elsewhere,” he said. “California appears to be a tougher circuit to me, although I believe it will survive.    “I think the little guy could use more help with the racing conditions for his horses. It seems every time you enter, Baffert has a $700,000 horse in a race and you have a $10,000 horse trying to outrun him. It’s hard to get stock to beat him.”    Baffert’s not in the Hall of Fame for nothing.    But despite racing’s intrinsic challenges, it’s the anticipation of light shining at the end of the tunnel that motivates Brinkerhoff to move ever onward.    He adheres to a Herculean physical work ethic coupled with the spiritual philosophy of Gandhi.    “Racing is a full-time job,” Brinkerhoff said.     “It’s something we want to do, and we do it.”
By Ed Golden

The Santa Anita stable notes for April 14th (as written by Ed Golden) succinctly summarize that Val Brinkerhoff is one of the faceless trainers who drives the game.

He might be light years from being in a league with the Bafferts, Browns, and Pletchers but pound for pound, the 62-year-old Brinkerhoff has one of the most industrious operations in the land, flying beneath the radar while gaining respect from peers and bettors alike.

He’s an angular version of John Wayne, cowboy hat and all, but without the girth and swagger, Brinkerhoff is a hands-on horseman from dawn till dusk.

He is a former jockey who gallops his own horses, be they at Santa Anita, Del Mar, Turf Paradise in Arizona, or his training center in St. George, Utah, where he breaks babies and legs up older horses that have been turned out.

In short, Val Brinkerhoff is a man’s man, pilgrim.

It all began when he was 14 in a dot on the map called Fillmore, Utah, current population circa 2,500.

Named for the 13th President of the United States, Millard Fillmore, it was the capital of Utah from 1851 to 1856. The original Utah Territorial Statehouse building still stands in the central part of the state, 148 miles south of Salt Lake City and 162 miles north of St. George.

But enough of history.

“My dad trained about 30 horses when we lived in Fillmore,” said Brinkerhoff, a third-generation horseman. “I would ride a pony up and down a dirt road outside our house every day, and that’s how I learned to gallop horses.

“There was no veterinarian in Fillmore, so you had to learn how to be a vet on your own, on top of everything else, because it was 300 miles round trip to a vet. So, if something was wrong, you had to figure it out for yourself without having to run to Salt Lake and back every five minutes.

“I was 5’ 10’’ and weighed 118 pounds and rode at the smaller venues, mainly in Utah but also Montana, where I was leading rider, and Wyoming and California (Fairplex Park in Pomona). I’ll never forget the day my dad took me to Pomona. I walked in the jocks’ room and immediately became aware of how tall I was.

“While in California, Bill Shoemaker gave me one of his whips, which I cherished. I rode many winners with it. Towards the end of my father’s life, my son, Ryan, asked him if he had any regrets. He said he had one.”

His father said, “I should have taken Val to the big tracks in California and given him the chance to make it there. He had the desire and the talent.”

Brinkerhoff also rode in Utah at outposts with names that sound contrived, like Beaver, Richfield, Marysvale, Kanab, Parowan, Ferron, Payson, and Panguitch.

“But ultimately,” he said, “I couldn’t make the weight. I was already skinny and at 5-10 and 118 pounds, didn’t have an ounce to lose.

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