Nineteen years ago, Chad Brown clutched a program and a pen and begged for autographs from Saratoga jockeys. Brown and his parents would make their annual trips from their home in Mechanicville and 9-year-old Brown would pester Mike Smith, Chris Antley, Robbie Davis and any jockey who walked past for a signature. In between autographs, Brown told his dad he’d run a horse at Saratoga one day. Nine years old, the boy had a plan.
He left out the win part.
Nine months after opening a public stable, Chad Brown, 29, saddled his first horse at Saratoga.
Gary and Mary West’s Star Player did the rest, winning the opener, an off-the-turf starter allowance for Brown’s first win at Saratoga. At the end of the day, Brown stood under the awning outside the racing office while the rain picked up momentum. As his wife Terrell, very pregnant, headed for cover, Brown dug his hands deep into a Belmont Stakes pullover and gazed across the rain-soaked paddock and picnic area. Brown seemed a long way from collecting autographs and offering his father a million-to-one prediction.
“A lot of planning, a lot of hard work, a lot of luck,” Brown said. “It’s deep water. Honestly going in if I could win one race, I’d be happy. To be honest. I’m relieved to get one out of the way.”
Saratoga is Brown’s local track. He worked at the harness track during summer vacations, back when they were the only horses in Saratoga. Thoroughbreds came for the month of August. That’s all. Brown went to Cornell but then decided to abandon the veterinarian path and began his Thorougbred trek with Shug McGaughey before landing an assistant’s job with Bobby Frankel about five years ago.
The Hall of Famer enlisted Brown in a six-month course of California training with his assistant Humberto Ascanio. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
“Frankel told me to shadow him for six months and then I could come back east. They were doing well for decades so when a new guy comes in, they could be a little territorial,” Brown said. “Humberto said to me, ‘What do you want? You’re here all day. You follow us around. Go home.’ I said, ‘I Just want to know what you know. That’s it.’ “
Ascanio never let up.
“He said, ‘I’m going to work you to death.’ They tried killing me, but they couldn’t,” Brown said. “I just kept working and eventually he started trusting me with stuff – once I was OK with Humberto, I was OK with everyone else. We became close. I wouldn’t be here without Humberto and Frankel.”
Brown manned an artery of Frankel’s eastern division and it worked. They got along, and most importantly, they won races. The protege saddled the mentor’s Ginger Punch to win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Monmouth last fall and was flying free the next day. With Frankel’s blessing, Brown traded in his assistant license badge for the real thing, hanging his blue webbings and buckets.
“I was always where he wasn’t, and that was fine, but sooner or later I want to be at Saratoga. I want to be at Belmont. This is where I’m from, I had to make this move,” Brown said. “You never really feel like you’re ready but it was time, there was an opportunity. Frankel gave me good recommendations, he helped me with owners, I still talk to him all the time. He likes to see young guys do good.”
Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and the Wests supported Brown’s leap of faith, sending him decent horses that gave him instant creditability.
“I got lucky to work with some very good people, the luckiest thing was when Frankel took me in and sent me to Hollywood Park to work with Humberto,” Brown said. “Things changed, I started to see things at a different level. He taught me how to deal with Bobby, he said, ‘Be honest with this guy, get the bad news out right away, just tell him.’ “
There was no bad news on Wednesday.