LEXINGTON, KY (April 22, 2017) – Entered in today’s 10th race, the 3-year-old First Samurai filly Lela’s Gift will become Kent Sweezey’s first starter as a trainer.
“I woke up at 2:30 (this morning). I couldn’t sleep,” he said. “I thought about how cool it would be to win a race at Keeneland in front of everybody here.”
In many ways, Sweezey, 31, has spent a lifetime preparing for this moment. His family is deeply involved in the Thoroughbred industry. His father, Wayne, and Wayne’s wife, Cathy, own Timber Town Stable, a successful consignor at Keeneland sales that is home to the all-star broodmare band owned by Mandy Pope. Timber Town bred Lela’s Gift and races her with Lela Brown and James A. Brown.
The younger Sweezey, who graduated from Lexington’s Dunbar High School, attended the breeding program offered by the Irish National Stud and spent time in Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. He might have pursued a career in the breeding industry if trainer Christophe Clement had not visited Timber Town about eight years ago and invited him to go to Payson Park training center in Florida for “a little taste of the race track.” Sweezey became hooked by the excitement of racing.
He worked for Clement in Florida and New York for a year then spent three years with Eoin Harty in California. He became interested in working for Jimmy Jerkens in New York after Jerkens ran one-two in the 2014 Travers (G1) with V. E. Day and Wicked Strong.
“I just wanted to work for Jimmy and learn that whole Jerkens program,” he said, adding that spending time with horses such as multiple graded stakes winner Shaman Ghost instilled in him a love of older horses with which Jerkens is so successful.
About a year ago, Sweezey decided to go out on his own.
“I think it was just time,” he said. “I knew my dad has this filly that I’ve always liked. I heard from people that it was time. Some of Jimmy’s clients were the ones that really pushed me into doing it and they all said they would support me. So far they have.”
Sweezey, who is assisted by his girlfriend and exercise rider, Brittany Trimble, has seven horses at Keeneland, including one for Pope, with another two set to arrive Wednesday. When the Spring Meet ends, he will move to Trackside Training Center in Louisville with hopes of acquiring stalls at Churchill Downs after the Kentucky Derby (G1).
He said he still talks to Jerkens quite often.
“He just texted me today and told me good luck with the filly,” he said. “He knows I’m in tough, but he knows the hard work we put into her will pay off.”
Lela’s Gift, who will be making her third start this afternoon, represents another Keeneland connection. Her second dam,Love You by Heart, won the 1988 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G2) here.