Breeders' Cup Presents Connections: From Show Jumpers To Racehorses, Hall Of Famer Knows How To Spot A Good One - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: From Show Jumpers To Racehorses, Hall Of Famer Knows How To Spot A Good One

The path to a career as a Thoroughbred trainer can take many forms.

For some, it starts with a love of racing—perhaps a parent who imparts their passion for the game onto their child from an early age. For others, it might start with a job on the backstretch, working as a hot walker or a groom—if you work long enough, you can usually find a mentor willing to detail the finer points of the sport.

But for trainers like Rodney Jenkins, the desire to race is an expression of a larger career trajectory that began in the show ring and ends at the racetrack.

“I always liked racing when I was younger but since I rode show horses, I was just a little too heavy to ride a racehorse,” joked Jenkins. “But I love racehorses, they're beautiful animals and to be honest, that's why I went back to training.”

As modestly as he mentions his show jumping career, Jenkins was anything but the typical rider on the competitive circuit. Born in Middleburg, Va., Jenkins first began riding with his father, Enis, an avid huntsman and active with several fox hunting groups.

Jenkins' first professional foray into show jumping came when he was 17. While showing remained his central focus, he dabbled in racehorse training on the side.

Beginning in the late 1960s, Jenkins established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the show ring. His most famous mount was Idle Dice, a former Thoroughbred racehorse whose second career would more than eclipse his modest record on the track.

Together, the pair would win the Grands Prix at New York, Devon, Detroit, and Cleveland; the President's Cup in 1971 and 1972; and the Grand Prix Horse of the Year in 1977, among many other accolades. Idle Dice was the first horse inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 1987.

The most decorated rider in the history of U.S. show jumping, Jenkins himself was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 1999. In total, he won a record 70 Grand Prix-level competitions before retiring in 1989.

When his show jumping career came to an end, Jenkins decided it was time to pivot his career back to racing. In 1991, he struck out on his own, training primarily in the Mid-Atlantic area where he remains today.

“I started training steeplechasers first and the only reason I really did that was because they were jumpers,” said Jenkins. “I really enjoyed it but as far as the business goes, I knew that racing on the flat was where the business was. There is so much more opportunity to do that.

“While I was doing steeplechase, I was running a few horses on the flat at the same time. After a while, I got a couple more horses running on the track, so I just began to gravitate away and do only that.”

For Jenkins, the challenge of training racehorses comes in the observation. While he admires their natural speed and athleticism, he admits that working with show jumpers was an easier transition for his skills as a horseman.

“For me it was a little bit different moving only to racing because show horses, when you ride, they will show you what kind of ability they have,” said Jenkins. “With racehorses, you have to go a lot by breeding and really pay attention to the way they move. Show horses were always easier because I could jump them myself, and I felt like I knew what it took for a horse to be a good show horse.”

Thirty years after he made the decision to train Thoroughbreds full time, 77-year-old Jenkins remains as enamored with the horses and the game as ever. Based out of Laurel Park, he has logged 927 victories from 4,573 starts to date with just over $24 million in purse earnings.

Currently, Jenkins has 17 horses in training in his barn, but continues to shop the sales for his clients each year, buying yearlings and breaking 2-year-olds—many of them Maryland-breds—ahead of starting them on the track.

Among his current contingent is his most successful trainee, Cordmaker, who most recently captured the Richard W. Small Stakes on Nov. 27 at Laurel Park. With $734,640 in purses and an 11-4-7 record from 33 starts, the 6-year-old son of Curlin has more than proven himself to Jenkins.

“It's been a thrill to see him do well,” said Jenkins. “He was a slow comer, but he's really turned it around and turned into a really nice horse. We haven't thought about what he'll do in 2022 yet. We have a race (Robert T. Manfuso Stakes Dec. 26)) coming up next Sunday at Laurel Park, so we will run him there and then see what happens after that. We have quite a bit to look forward to.”

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