Saturday, December 31, 2011

Leigh and Arnaud Delacour, Trainers

Today’s blogger is trainer Leigh Delacour, who runs Delacour Stable with her husband, Arnaud. They currently campaign 30 horses at Tampa Bay Downs. A University of Virginia graduate with degrees in biology and economics, Leigh won 25 races as a jockey (with 25 seconds and 25 thirds) before working as an assistant under Kentucky Derby-winning trainers Barclay Tagg and Graham Motion. The Delacours were married in 2007 and immediately began their own stable. She trained Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint third-place finisher Her Smile last year at Tampa Bay Downs before Her Smile was sold.

When you’ve grown up working on the grounds and working so hard with every horse every day, you realize how so much effort by so many people is put into each horse before it gets to the races. We employ between 15-20 people here full time, and we have five or six more guys as contract labor. Arnaud and I get here around 5:30 every morning and check the legs and temperatures of every horse and have a good look before the boys put the tack on to go to the track.
We take all the horses out every day for some form of exercise. Each of our riders gets on six horses in the morning. That includes me. We have five or six horses in each set. We walk up together to the track, stand for a few minutes and kind of talk about who’s going to do what – ‘Tony, gallop a mile and a quarter,’ ‘Leigh, you’re going to jog once around because that filly breezed the day before.’ We work as a team together, which makes it nice.
By the time we get back to the barn, the second set of horses is already tacked up. We don’t have much time in between. Gosh forbid you drink too much coffee, because you don’t have time to ride to the ladies room.
Most trainers have a system of what they like to do with a horse. A standard regimen would include breezing approximately once a week, having an easy day jogging or walking the day after a breeze, and racing about once a month.
After they run, we’ll give them a couple of easy days where they walk a day and jog a day, then we’ll jog them for a week or so and give them some easy gallops until we bring them back to a breeze. How far and how strenuous the breezes are depends on where the horse is in its fitness level.
Right now, every horse we train is owned by a client. The only horse we own is our pony, and we left him at home in Fair Hill, Md. at our training center. We may occasionally buy into a partnership, but that usually is more a goodwill gesture than a financial decision.
We’re finished training most days by 10 a.m., when the track closes. I am supposed to help clean the tack with the guys, but they are all very helpful and usually do it for me. Guys like Pablo and Erasmo know what to do and make my job easier. There is a lot of organizational work to be done. We update all our charts on the computer and keep individual files on each horse. When I was working for Graham Motion, I would travel with a small string of 12 or less and could keep the information in my head, but once you get to 15 or more horses you have to have it very organized.
Schooling horses is a very important part of our training, and we’ll school horses a couple of days a week. First, we ask the paddock judge, Sam Siciliano, for permission to take horses up and school them during the first race while our grooms are still here. They walk up with the runners, walk around in the paddock during the race and walk back.
So they don’t actually run, but they get the experience of going to the races. Then, when it comes time for them to run, they’re not nervous about going to the paddock. They go there very self-confident, they don’t sweat or wash out and they have less likelihood of misbehaving.
I am very much a horse person. By nature, I’m kind of introverted if I’m allowed to be. I really like animals, horses in particular. I know that sounds kind of girly, but horses have always been there for me. I think my parents, who live in Annapolis, think I’m a dairy farmer because we are at the barn all the time.
Arnaud makes fun of me when I push the feed cart, because I get distracted so often. It must weigh 1,000 pounds when it’s full, so it takes two people – one to push it and the other to dole out the food. Arnaud says it doesn’t work very well when I push it, because I’m thinking of things I want to do for each horse and it takes forever to get down the shed row. So that’s one thing we don’t do together.
We’re usually back at the barns at 3:30 in the afternoon to walk the horses, let them have a pick of grass. We pay hot walkers to come back in the afternoon and help, but we are here pretty much all the time. That is the way it should be – trust, but verify. Things always go wrong when you aren’t here, but when you’re here they go wrong less.
Arnaud is the most influential person in my career. I already had a very good work ethic because I care so much about the animals, but his work ethic has been a major influence. This is a job that requires your attention all day, every day. When you have a bad situation, you figure out how to fix it and move on. There is no point stressing out about something. You may have a problem with one horse, but you can’t lose sight of the fact there are 29 others depending on you to steer the ship.
Honestly, I’m not in horse racing because I really love the sport. I do realize it’s a fun adventure for people to wager on the races, but that is not why I do it. I do it because I like the animals and you can make a living in horse racing, where if you are an event rider you need to have a sponsor or beg, borrow and steal enough money just to feed your string.
Between the purse structure and owners being able to afford to race horses – realizing they are a luxury commodity – Arnaud and I don’t have to starve to make sure we can take care of the horses properly.
If there is one thing I would change about my job, we would have a vacation. Still, when I am able to get away for a day or two, I feel as if I haven’t done any exercise because I didn’t ride. If I go see my parents for Christmas or something, in two days I am ready to come back. Arnaud and I jump out of bed at 4:30 every morning, and that is hard to say about any job.
For us, it is always about doing the right thing for the horse and the right thing for our clients, and the right thing for our employees. We are very minimally influenced by what other people think. Arnaud has a very strong sense of ethics, and that is something that is coveted in any business.
At the end of the morning, I usually have the sensation of ‘that day went well.’ No one fell off, no one went lame, no big disasters struck. The breezes went well and according to plan and no owner fired you. That’s when we look at each other and say, ‘That was a pretty good day.’


  1. That was very interesting. Thank you for this blog!

  2. Thank you Leigh for a great read this morning. Wishing you much success in the coming year, and very excited to see Lentenor have a huge year, along with the return of Nicanor (if HE wants that return, lol). Thanks again...

  3. this was wonderful to read and I found myself dreaming of being a trainer. I adore the animals and would love to be involved with them on an "up close and personal" level. I feel that Nic and Len are in wonderful hands, especially after reading this, and all is right with the world...

  4. Very nice post, Leigh. Got turned on to this blog by my sister, Amy Jackson. Stay careful w those big horses. Cheers,

  5. Take good care of "Barbaro's Bros..." I know you will...
    God Bless!