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Trainers' game: Keep horses running and owners happy


CHICAGO -- His work makes him a combination of coach and athletic director. But instead of alumni obsessed with winning one for the alma mater, he answers to owners whose checkbooks do the recruiting.

The upside is he knows where his athletes are every night.

The downside is he has to get up before the crack of dawn to hold his practices and his season can be unending.

Injuries are a constant, often coming at the most inopportune times.

Although his superstars never ask to renegotiate contracts, they generally retire after a couple of years.

It's all part of the game, and the name of the game is training thoroughbred racehorses.

"It's a game structured on a lot of lows and very few highs," says Frank Brothers, whose 11-year career winning percentage is an amazing 25 percent.

This spring Brothers soared sky-high when he won two legs of the Triple Crown, the Preakness and Belmont, with Hansel.

Hansel and the others in Brothers' stable make Arlington International Racecourse in suburban Arlington Heights their summer home.

Arlington is a racing melting pot. There are some trainers, such as Brothers, who spend the rest of the year racing elsewhere in the nation. Others stay on the Chicago circuit year-round, starting the season when Sportsman's Park opens in mid-February and remaining until Hawthorne brings down the curtain Dec. 31.

Like Brothers, Carl Nafzger, Bud Delp and Noel Hickey excel at bringing out the best in the equine athletes whose dorms are on the Arlington backstretch.

The four horsemen's stables are significantly different and their approaches are distinct, just as the basketball programs and coaching philosophies at Indiana, Duke, Nevada-Las Vegas and Princeton are dissimilar.

Brothers, 44, is the private trainer for Joe Allbritton, a man of

means whose estimated worth is $500 million.

Before accepting Allbritton's offer late in 1988, Brothers had a public stable with many clients and horses that ran the gamut from claimers to stakes horses.

Then, he had 75 horses. Now, he has 25.

To help with the load, Brothers employs two assistants, eight grooms, five exercise riders, seven hot-walkers, a day watchman and a night watchman.

"I'm at the barn every morning at 5 o'clock and I usually stay till 11 o'clock, sometimes till noon," said Brothers. "I'm usually back at the barn in the afternoon definitely if we run something. If not, I'll usually stop by between 3 and 5 o'clock in the afternoon."

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