Randy Winick is a man with Ran and Win built into his name. So you could say he was born to race. He trains thoroughbred horses for a living, just as his father did. He is currently the trainer of Brocco, who ran to win in Saturday's Santa Anita Derby with such authority and beauty, it is not inconceivable that his horse will be the favorite to do likewise in the Kentucky Derby next month.
Talking about the Kentucky Derby recently, Winick said it wasn't that big a deal.
After the race Saturday, he laughed at himself and said, "Well, talk is cheap."
Sometimes, as any trainer can tell you, racing means waiting. And waiting. Randy Winick has not even been to a Kentucky Derby for 22 years, or half his lifetime. Last time he attended one, on May 6, 1972, it was because a horse called Hold Your Peace, trained by his father, Arnold Winick, was going off as the 7-to-2 second choice behind favored Riva Ridge, and he could picture himself in the winner's circle, of legal age to be poured some champagne. Alas, the winner was, indeed, Riva Ridge, with the Winicks settling for third place and wondering which year would be their year.
Either you learn how to pace yourself or you don't. Randy Winick knows how. He is a Chicago Cub fan who hasn't been to a game at Wrigley Field in so long, "I remember Ernie Banks was at shortstop." Growing up on the North Side and in suburban Glenview, he always told himself that the year of years could be just around the next corner. In the meantime, though, Winick watched others do all the winning.
He even says, "Now that I look back on it, half the fun was watching Warren Spahn or Lew Burdette or Red Schoendienst come to play. The best players were the ones on the other team."
That doesn't keep him from wearing a Cub cap around the barns, though. And besides, training horses for an owner, Albert R. Broccoli, who is better known by the nickname Cubby, what could be more fitting? The home team has to win sometime, doesn't it? Holy cow, this could be the year.
"It's something I've always dreamed of," Winick says.
Having a Derby horse?
"Any Derby. I've never had a Derby horse, Kentucky or Santa Anita or any kind of Derby."
Brocco is a lot of horse. He won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile race last November, establishing himself as a horse to reckon with in Kentucky once he had that third birthday. He outran Dehere. He was on his way.
But then came a setback or two. Brocco's training schedule got, well, off-schedule. He fell short in the Hollywood Futurity by half a length. Then he lost some training hours in December because of rain. He had some muscle strains in January. He went nearly three months without a race and ran second again upon his return. Twice he ran and twice he failed to win.
If he failed Saturday, what would people say?
Winick could guess. Here he was, up against the best trainers in the business, Charlie Whittingham, Wayne Lukas, but people expected his horse to win. They were betting at 3-to-5 odds he would win. There was a lot of pressure on Randy Winick to win, even though there probably shouldn't have been.
He watched the race anxiously, with his father also among those viewing. Randy said later, "Maybe the rumors can be put to bed that there's something wrong with this horse. There's nothing wrong, as you can see. He did exactly what we thought he could do. Everything's running right on schedule. We always said we wanted to peak at precisely this time."
Of course, this race was hardly what it was cracked up to be. Valiant Nature was withdrawn. Then, so was Soul Of The Matter. These were the horses that had beaten Brocco last two times out. What would a third defeat mean, particularly against a reduced field?
Once again, waiting was the key. Brocco's rider, Gary Stevens, had to be patient while a rabbit of a horse, Fly'n J. Bryan, bolted to the front. The early leader led by so much, some bettors must have feared that it was the L.A. Marathon all over again. Hard to trust those rabbits.
Then everyone ended up where he belonged. Brocco was the winner, Tabasco Cat ran a strong second and Fly'n J. Bryan ended up, well, dyin'. It was what the Racing Form might call racing to form.
Brocco is back on schedule. He is indeed Kentucky bound, leaving in a week to 10 days. And Randy Winick says, "I'm as happy as I've ever been."
He has himself a Derby horse at last.