Best Racehorse Trainers of All Time
Behind most great horses are great horsemen or horsewomen.
Trainers are in charge of the day-to-day care of thoroughbreds at race tracks around the world, and many of them embody the term "horse whisperer." But getting horses ready to run isn’t as easy as trainers make it look.
The best trainers have done it better than anyone in horse racing history, and some of them are still active today.
Note: All wins and earnings totals are per Equibase through May 7, 2019.
25. Dale Baird
Born: April 17, 1935
Died: Dec. 23, 2007
Years as trainer: 1961-2007
Notable horses: N/A
Bottom line: The winningest trainer in American racing history didn’t ply his trade on a major circuit like New York or California.
Instead, Dale Baird was a mainstay in West Virginia, where he won the training title at Mountaineer every year between 1981 and 2000.
He became the first trainer ever to record 9,000 career wins, and he earned a special Eclipse Award in 2005.
24. Jonathan Sheppard
Born: Dec. 2, 1940
Years as rrainer: 1965-present
Notable horses: Storm Cat, Forever Together
Bottom line: Jonathan Sheppard doesn’t just train horses on the "flat." He’s also one of the top trainers of steeplechase horses, ones that jump over fences while traveling very long distances.
Additionally, he holds one of racing’s most unbreakable records. He won at least one race at Saratoga in every year from 1969 through 2015, a stretch of 47 seasons.
23. Michael Dickinson
Born: Feb. 3, 1950
Years as trainer: 1980-present
Notable horses: Da Hoss, Tapit, Fleet Renee
Bottom line: Michael Dickinson has been called horse racing’s "mad genius" for some of his methods and quirks.
Most notably, he pulled off one of the sport’s all-time best training jobs with Da Hoss, who won the Breeders’ Cup Mile in both 1996 and 1998 with just one race between the victories.
Dickinson also developed a surface called Tapeta, a synthetic material that has been put into place at several prominent tracks around the world.
22. Linda Rice
Born: March 7, 1964
Years as trainer: 1987-present
Notable horses: Palace, City Zip, La Verdad
Bottom line: The daughter of a trainer, Linda Rice has emerged as arguably the best female conditioner in racing history.
Despite a fairly small barn, she won the prestigious trainer’s title at Saratoga in 2009. In doing so, she became the first female trainer to win such a crown at a major New York track.
This honor was far from a fluke, as Rice’s horses have recorded 90 or more wins in every year since 2013.
21. Lucien Laurin
Born: March 18, 1912
Died: June 26, 2000
Years as trainer: 1942-90
Notable horses: Secretariat, Riva Ridge, Angle Light
Bottom line: Lucien Laurin was a respected trainer for many years prior to the early 1970s. However, he was elevated to Hall of Fame status following the exploits of two horses.
Riva Ridge won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in 1972, but he wasn’t even Horse of the Year that year. That honor fell to his stablemate, Secretariat, who also won the Triple Crown the following season.
20. Jerry Hollendorfer
Born: June 18, 1946
Years as trainer: 1979-present
Notable horses: Songbird, Blind Luck, Shared Belief
Bottom line: A 2011 inductee into racing’s Hall of Fame, Jerry Hollendorfer has long been considered one of the top "claiming" trainers in the game.
However, over the past several years, his barn has been the home of some of the top horses in training.
Hollendorfer trainees have won three Breeders’ Cup races, and his barn has racked up more than $7 million in annual earnings in every season since 2007.
19. Roger Attfield
Born: Nov. 28, 1939
Years as trainer: 1972-present
Notable horses: Perfect Shirl, Talkin Man, With Approval
Bottom line: Over the past four-plus decades, Roger Attfield has emerged as one of the top trainers in Canadian racing history.
His trainees have won the Queen’s Plate (Canada’s version of the Kentucky Derby) eight times, and he has been inducted into both the American and Canadian Halls of Fame.
18. Steve Asmussen
Born: Nov. 18, 1965
Years as trainer: 1986-present
Notable horses: Curlin, Gun Runner, Rachel Alexandra
Bottom line: A member of the Asmussen racing family (which has produced a number of top horsemen and horsewomen), Steve Asmussen maintains several strings of horses around the country.
He was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 2016, and has won six Breeders’ Cup races and three Triple Crown events (two Preaknesses, one Belmont).
17. Chad Brown
Born: Dec. 18, 1978
Years as trainer: 2007-present
Notable horses: Good Magic, Lady Eli, Sistercharlie
Bottom line: Chad Brown cut his teeth working for some of the top trainers in the business (including Bobby Frankel).
Over the past decade, Brown has emerged as a superior horseman, and his runners have earned more than $20 million in every season since 2015.
He already has won 12 Breeders’ Cup races and earned his first win in a Triple Crown event with Cloud Computing in the 2017 Preakness.
16. Sir Michael Stoute
Born: Oct. 22, 1945
Years as trainer: 1972-present
Notable horses: Conduit, Shergar, Dank
Bottom line: One of Europe’s most prominent horsemen, Sir Michael Stoute has been named Champion Trainer ten times and has conditioned legendary horses such as Shergar, Singspiel, and Fantastic Light.
His success has stretched all over the world, including America, where his charges have won eight Breeders’ Cup races.
Most notably, Conduit won back-to-back renewals of the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 2008 and 2009, and Expert Eye rallied to take the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Mile.
15. Laz Barrera
Born: May 8, 1924
Died: April 25, 1991
Years as trainer: 1951-91
Notable horses: Affirmed, Bold Forbes, Lemhi Gold
Bottom line: A member of one of racing’s most productive families, Laz Barrera moved from his native Cuba to Mexico, and then to the United States.
He won racing’s Eclipse Award as its top trainer in four consecutive years (1976-79), and anchored that stretch by conditioning Affirmed, who swept the Triple Crown races in 1978.
14. Jack Van Berg
Born: June 7, 1936
Died: Dec. 27, 2017
Years as trainer: 1957-2017
Notable horses: Alysheba, Gate Dancer, Vilzak
Bottom line: The son of Hall of Fame trainer Marion Van Berg, Jack Van Berg started his career dominating the Midwest.
He won 19 straight training titles at Ak-Sar-Ben in Nebraska and trained a pair of classic winners in the 1980s.
Gate Dancer won the 1984 Preakness Stakes, while Hall of Famer Alysheba took two-thirds of the 1987 Triple Crown and won the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic as a 4-year-old.
13. Richard Mandella
Born: Nov. 5, 1950
Years as trainer: 1976-present
Notable horses: Beholder, Pleasantly Perfect, Kotashaan
Bottom line: Richard Mandella has been a Southern California stalwart for more than 40 years. He was born less than 20 minutes from Santa Anita Park, and many of his biggest wins have come there.
Most notably, in 2003 (two years after his Hall of Fame induction), he trained four Breeders’ Cup winners in one day, including Classic hero Pleasantly Perfect.
12. Claude 'Shug' McGaughey
Born: Jan. 6, 1951
Years as trainer: 1978-present
Notable horses: Personal Ensign, Easy Goer, Lure
Bottom line: The man known by many as "Shug" emerged as a top trainer after being hired by prominent owner Ogden Phipps in the late 1980s.
That relationship with the Phipps family (which still exists today) led to Claude McGaughey conditioning champions such as Easy Goer and Personal Ensign (among others), and in 2013, he and the Phippses enjoyed their first Kentucky Derby victory with Orb.
11. Robert Frankel
Born: July 9, 1941
Died: Nov. 16, 2009
Years as trainer: 1966-2009
Notable horses: Ghostzapper, Empire Maker, Squirtle Squirt
Bottom line: Better known by some today as the father of socialite Bethenny Frankel, Robert spent most of his career as one of the top trainers on the West Coast.
He won four consecutive Eclipse Awards from 2000 to 2003, and in the last year of that run, he set a world record with 25 Grade or Group 1 wins, which stood for 14 years.
10. Aidan O’Brien
Born: Oct. 16, 1969
Years as trainer: 1996-present
Notable horses: Galileo, Giant’s Causeway, Highland Reel
Bottom line: Aidan O’Brien is regarded as one of Europe’s top trainers, and for good reason.
He broke Robert Frankel’s single-season Grade/Group 1 record in 2017, and has had success all over the world (largely as the private trainer for Ballydoyle and Coolmore Stud).
This success includes the United States, as he has won 12 different Breeders’ Cup events (including a record six victories in the Breeders’ Cup Turf).
9. Jim Fitzsimmons
Born: July 23, 1874
Died: March 11, 1966
Years as trainer: 1894-1963
Notable horses: Gallant Fox, Omaha, Nashua
Bottom line: Jim Fitzsimmons dominated the sport in the 1930s, when he trained Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox and Omaha (incidentally, the former was the sire of the latter).
He experienced a resurgence in the 1950s, when he trained champions Bold Ruler (the sire of Secretariat) and Nashua.
The man known as "Sunny Jim" was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 1958.
8. H. Allen Jerkens
Born: April 21, 1929
Died: March 18, 2015
Years as trainer: 1951-2015
Notable horses: Onion, Prove Out, Society Selection
Bottom line: The owner of arguably the best nickname in racing, H. Allen Jerkens was known as the "Giant Killer." This moniker is due in large part to his trainees beating Triple Crown winner Secretariat twice during his 1973 campaign.
However, Jerkens’s career was much more than one big season. He was one of the sport’s top conditioners for more than a half-century, and his legacy lives on through his sons, Jimmy and Steven, who are both respected trainers on the New York circuit.
7. Bill Mott
Born: July 29, 1953
Years as trainer: 1968-present
Notable horses: Cigar, Theatrical, Royal Delta
Bottom line: Bill Mott won his first race when he was just 15 years old, at a small track in his native South Dakota.
After spending time working for the likes of Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg, Mott carved out a Hall of Fame career of his own.
Most notably, he trained Cigar, who won 16 consecutive races at the sport’s highest level in the mid-1990s, as well as champions Theatrical, Royal Delta and Favorite Trick.
6. Charles Whittingham
Born: April 13, 1913
Died: April 20, 1999
Years as trainer: 1950-1999
Notable horses: Sunday Silence, Ferdinand, Ack Ack
Bottom line: One of Southern California’s most famous horsemen, Charles Whittingham dominated the circuit for decades.
Success in classic races eluded him until the mid-1980s, but in rapid succession, Ferdinand and Sunday Silence emerged.
Both champions won the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic for a trainer inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 1974.
5. Todd Pletcher
Born: June 26, 1957
Years as trainer: 1996-present
Notable horses: Ashado, English Channel, Uncle Mo
Bottom line: One of many horsemen to emerge from the D. Wayne Lukas camp, Todd Pletcher wasted no time in establishing himself as a head trainer.
Over the past two decades, his trainees have won nine Breeders’ Cup races and five Triple Crown events, and he has campaigned the likes of Hall of Fame Ashado and champions English Channel, Uncle Mo and Rags to Riches.
4. Woody Stephens
Born: Sept. 1, 1913
Died: Aug. 22, 1998
Years as trainer: 1944-97
Notable horses: Swale, Creme Fraiche, Forty Nine
Bottom line: For some trainers, saddling a starter in a single renewal of the Belmont Stakes would be an unforgettable thrill. Winning one would be a dream come true. Woody Stephens won the Belmont in five consecutive years from 1982 through 1986.
That is just one of many achievements in Stephens’s long, storied career, which also included a pair of Kentucky Derby wins and a Hall of Fame induction in 1976.
3. Ben Jones
Born: Dec. 31, 1882
Died: June 13, 1961
Years as trainer: 1909-53
Notable horses: Whirlaway, Citation, Armed
Bottom line: Ben Jones was best known as the lead trainer at Calumet Farm, which enjoyed an unparalleled run of success in the middle of the 20th century.
He won the Kentucky Derby six times between 1938 and 1952, and among those winners were Triple Crown heroes Whirlaway and Citation.
His exploits were so astounding that he graced the cover of Time Magazine in 1949.
2. Bob Baffert
Born: Jan. 13, 1953
Years as trainer: 1988-present
Notable horses: American Pharoah, Justify, Arrogate
Bottom line: Ask a member of the general public to name a trainer, and Bob Baffert is likely the one that person will come up with.
The white-haired horseman has trained the two most recent winners of horse racing’s Triple Crown: American Pharoah and Justify.
He also conditioned several other runners that came close: Silver Charm, Real Quiet and Point Given all won two-thirds of the series.
1. D. Wayne Lukas
Born: Sept. 2, 1935
Years as trainer: 1974-present
Notable horses: Lady’s Secret, Thunder Gulch, Serena’s Song
Bottom line: Very few people can say they changed industries, but D. Wayne Lukas did just that.
He was one of the first American trainers to make a habit out of shipping horses around the country, and the expression "Wayne off the plane" became a popular one very quickly.
Even at 83 years of age, he’s still one of the most recognizable trainers in the sport, and he even trained champion 3-year-old Male Will Take Charge in 2014.
For more information on trainers (and the horses they’ve conditioned), visit Equibase.com.