Bill Finley recently spoke to Wagga Wagga native, 54 year-old Brian Lynch. Leaving Australia while in his early twenties, he didn’t stay there long enough to make a name for himself in horse racing. But he’s more than made up for it in the U.S. and Canada.
After a slow start to his career, Lynch is now among the top trainers in North America. He’s won 44 graded stakes races, including the GI Woodbine Mile, the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and the GI Queen’s Plate. He also won six stakes with Australian import Power Alert.
TDN AusNZ: To what extent were you involved in the horse racing industry before leaving Australia?
Brian Lynch: I grew up in a town called Wagga Wagga and there was a provisional, country track there. I was a stable lad and galloped horses around the track there. I worked as an assistant to an old guy who was a big cattle buyer and seller and he would go on the road for weeks at a time and I would be left with the team of horses. Did I train under my own name? No. Was I exposed to running the show. Yes, I was.
"Did I train under my own name? No. Was I exposed to running the show. Yes, I was. " - Brian Lynch
TDN AusNZ: So, what brought you to North America?
BL: At that stage in my life I was very heavily involved in bull riding and the big prize money was over here. I was a young bull rider and the U.S. was the place to be. I scratched out a living. I wouldn’t say I could have retired off of it. But I had a lot of fun in the process.
TDN AusNZ: You weren’t done transitioning. You went from a bull rider to a horse trainer. How and why did you make that step?
BL: I was dating a girl down in San Diego and we lived right across from Del Mar racetrack. I started annoying the stewards there, how can I get a trainer’s license? After a while, they must have said we’ve had enough of this guy and they just gave me one.
I purchased a couple of my own horses and started off that way. That was in the early nineties and I was just scratching out a living. Anything that could run I sold quickly; I was just flipping horses. I had a small stable and I didn’t have any big owners. Eventually, I started training for Golden Eagle Farms. They were still going strong out in California. Things changed when they downsized.
"I started annoying the stewards there, how can I get a trainer’s license? After a while, they must have said we’ve had enough of this guy and they just gave me one." - Brian Lynch
TDN AusNZ: You had some lean years. 0 for 22 in 1994, 1 for 29 in 1993. How tough were things?
BL: It wasn’t easy. You just try to scrape out a living. I owned most of the horses that I was running back then and I didn’t have a big budget to start with. It was a transition period. You see what works, what doesn’t work and what can run and what can’t run. It was a learning process for me.
TDN AusNZ: After Golden Eagle downsized, you went to work as an assistant to Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel while also training a few on your own. It was around the same time that Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown worked for Frankel. Considering that both of you have been so successful since, I imagine working for Frankel was an invaluable experience.
BL: I don’t think Bobby was exactly the greatest teacher because he didn’t say a lot or give you a lot of instructions, but if you were around him enough and you didn’t learn from him shame on you. It was his attention to detail, his patience, how he managed good horses. He just had that sixth sense about a horse.
If you were around him enough you, hopefully, would pick up things by observing how he conducted himself every day. When you have a division of horses for him you go over the horses with him every day. It was his lead that you had to follow, but he gave you plenty of freedom, too. You could have as much input as you wanted but he’d tell you to do something differently if that’s not what he wanted done. If it was something he hadn’t thought of he would compliment you. He gave you plenty of encouragement.
"It was his attention to detail, his patience, how he managed good horses." - Brian Lynch
TDN AusNZ: Your career didn’t really take off until you went to Canada in 2006. How did you wind up there?
BL: When I was working for Bobby and we had Ghostzapper for the Stronach family and I got to know them. The Stronachs asked me to take over their division in Canada, at Woodbine.
Before I left California, I was sort of getting the hang of things and I learned a lot from Bobby and was exposed to his owners. Then to have that opportunity to train privately for the Stronachs, that allowed me to get exposed to a lot of good horses. We had an enormous amount of success in Canada. We won every leg of their Triple Crown, some of them a couple of times. We won an enormous amount of stakes and I think that helped get me the sort of exposure that I had been lacking.
The thing about this game, a good horse will help you overcome a lot of things. Once you get your hands on better horses your job becomes a lot easier, it was a transition of learning, being around the game and just showing up every day and keeping your fingers crossed that a little bit of luck will come your way.
TDN AusNZ: Why did you leave the Stronach operation?
BL: I didn’t. Frank (Stronach) fired me. He fired me right after we won the Queen’s Plate with Shaman’s Ghost. There’s a very large and eclectic group of people that they have fired. I don’t know what happened. When Frank decides to make a change he just makes a change. But it was for the best for me because it allowed me to go back to where I wanted to be, the States.
TDN AusNZ: That was in 2015 and losing an owner like Stronach could have been a big setback. Instead, you’ve taken things to a new level. These last few years have been the best years of your career. Why?
BL: First of all, you have to have good owners and I am lucky to have some that stepped up to support me, especially Mr. And Mrs. John Amerman and Jim and Susan Hill. Once I got back to the States I’ve been able to build up a good stable of horses...Heart to Heart, Oscar Performance, Grand Arch. It’s wonderful to have horses like that. There are a lot of good horses that have carried me the last few years and, hopefully, there will be more to come.