“I grew up in this” A Conversation With Brian Brown

by Ken Weingartner

Brian Brown enjoyed a career year in 2015, winning a Breeders Crown with pacing mare Color’s A Virgin and setting personal records with 143 wins and $3.43 million in purses. His earnings ranked No. 9 among all trainers in North America.

Among Brown’s other successful horses were Lost For Words, Spider Man Hanover, Somewhere Sweet, Rock N Randall, Friskie Lil Devil, and Friskie Cruiser.

This week, Brown’s stable got off to a strong start in Ohio Sire Stakes action for 2-year-olds, winning seven of 12 starts.

USTA/Mark Hall photo
Brian Brown enjoyed a career year in 2015, setting personal records with 143 wins and $3.43 million in purses.

Brown spent his childhood summers watching his father Robert H. Brown and uncle William Brown campaign horses around Ohio. He fulfilled his dream to become a driver in 1981 at the age of 16 and won nearly 250 races over the ensuing decade, but turned his attention to training in the early 1990s.

The 51-year-old Brown is based at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in central Ohio, where he operates a stable of some 70 horses with assistance from his wife Jennifer and a number of other family members. He spends the winters prepping horses in Florida, but returns to the Buckeye State for the racing season.

Last year, Brown watched Lost For Words nearly win the famed Little Brown Jug at Brown’s home track at the Delaware County Fair. Lost For Words was beaten by a nose by Wiggle It Jiggleit in an epic Little Brown Jug.

Brown recently took time to talk with Ken Weingartner of the U.S. Trotting Association’s Harness Racing Communications division about that Little Brown Jug as well as his career in the sport.

KW: Going back to your start, where did your interest in harness racing come from?
BB: I grew up in this. My dad and uncle, mother, aunt — all of them were in the business. I just went to the barn helping them. You know how it goes, when I was a kid, this is all I wanted to do. When I turned a teenager, I was normal. I didn’t want to do nothing. I wanted to stay home and watch basketball and football on Saturdays. I didn’t want to go to the barn. By the time I was 15, again this is all I ever wanted to do. It’s all I’ve ever really done. I remember going to the fairs as a kid and our parents would give us a dollar to go to the midway. I took my dollar and bought a program and sat on the fence and watched races. They’d let me have a stopwatch once in a while and then I’d thought I’d really hit it big.

KW: How did that family background influence you as you started to go on your own and do things?
BB: It made all the world of difference to me because as you grow up in it, you don’t realize what you learn until you go on your own. My dad and uncle taught me all the basics and I started from the bottom. I cleaned stalls for a long time before I ever got to jog a horse, and even longer before I trained. I spent one winter with (trainer) Ivan Sugg, working for him after I graduated high school. Ivan isn’t a big talker, so I learned from him just by watching and him turning me loose and just going and doing it. But I never really knew what I learned there until I left.

KW: You did a little driving, too, in the early years.
BB: When I was younger — and about a hundred pounds ago — I thought that’s what I wanted to do. Every kid grows up wanting to be a driver.

KW: Was it hard to take that step back and say driving wasn’t really for you?
BB: It was because for a while I was doing pretty good. But I kind of ate my way out of that job. So I had to go back and just be a trainer. It helped me a lot because I started using David Miller and others, the best that were available, so my owners were starting to invest more money and giving me better chances. You realize how much better those other (drivers) are and how much more confidence the owners have in you as a trainer and them as a driver. Business started taking off then.

KW: When was that when you made the decision?
BB: Probably the early ’90s.

KW: So just about the time David’s career was taking off.
BB: Yeah. A little story, I tried to get David to drive a horse that I had in the sire stakes one time and he told me I’d do just as good a job and to do it myself. Now here it is, he’s a Hall of Famer and I’m still in Ohio working every day. (Laughs.)

KW: How long have you been going to Florida in the winter?
BB: Five years. It’s helped me a lot. It’s made the horses better. The first year we went with 28 horses. The next year it was 38, then 48, then 68, and 85. When you go, you get out of Ohio in the winter, get off a frozen track, the horses stay sounder, and we’ve done better. And the owners see it and invest more in the horses.

KW: How have you seen your stable change from the early days and how has it affected the way you do things?
BB: It’s led to better horses, bigger numbers, which means more work, more paperwork. My wife does a wonderful job keeping track of all that, or I’d be completely lost in this. It’s just better horses and bigger responsibilities. The communication part, not only with owners — drivers, blacksmiths, grooms, vets — all that just keeps building. It gets tougher. But we have a lot of good people here that have my back. So far it’s worked out.

KW: Was last year the standout year for you so far?
BB: By far. We won a couple really nice races. We just missed in the (Little Brown) Jug, which would have been unbelievable. It was a year that you go through and you’re trying to figure out what you did that things were so good.

KW: You brought up the Jug. How much do you still think about it?
BB: It’s funny. I can be on my iPad and be going through Facebook and click on a video of something and it goes to YouTube and almost every time that Jug comes up on the side (suggested videos) and I watch it. It was tough. To get beat that little, to come that close to a lifetime dream, it was tough. It took me about three days to want to come back to the barn, even though I came back every day. But once you let go of that and realize, I was second in the Jug in one of the best Jugs ever, and to stop and think that five years ago I just wanted to be in the race, to be pouting after you didn’t win seemed kind of childish. I just got beat by one heck of a horse. Wiggle It Jiggleit just went a tremendous race. After you stop and think about it and all the work that went into that day, David did everything he could to win that race, you just move on and start over.

KW: I’m surprised you still go back and watch it when you see it come up.
BB: (Laughs.) I just can’t help myself.

KW: What is the plan for Lost For Words this year?
BB: I’m going to dodge Wiggle It Jiggleit, Always B Miki, Rockin Ron, Freaky Feet Pete, until late in the summer. In late August or September, we might try some of those races. I didn’t even stake him in all the early ones. David Miller told me not to race him hard as a 4-year-old and he’d have a great 5-year-old year. So we’re going to try to do David’s suggestion, but still go in a couple of those (stakes) late and give him a little chance. I try to protect him like this last year and we didn’t go to the North America Cup or Meadowlands Pace. It’s just too much racing in a short period of time. He’s not a big horse and I didn’t think he’d last. It turned out it worked for us.

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