Frank Brothers first horse trainer to go into La. Sports Hall of Fame _lowres

Frank Brothers, horse trainer

Seven jockeys of great respect have gone into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

One of horse racing’s Eclipse Award winning owners is a member.

If at least one voting member had his way, a horse might have been considered for induction by now. But until this year’s induction ceremony in Natchitoches on Saturday, no Louisiana trainer of America’s great racing thoroughbreds had been inducted.

There is no doubt this is the guy.

Just as the Hall of Fame voting panel knows there are several jockeys with Louisiana roots heading into the stretch for enshrinement, the richly-deserved induction of New Orleans native Frank Brothers is just the first of what will eventually be other future trainers going into the Hall.

For Brothers, his ability to win and win and win at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and Louisiana Downs came at a time when racing in the state was flourishing, especially at the Bossier City track in the 1980s.

It was a time when no simulcasting and no racing in Texas made the track the place to be to bet on racing and make headlines as papers from three states had reporters staffing the spring-summer-fall meet.

“I didn’t see it coming at all and thought it was quite an honor, being a homeboy down there and involved in the sport,” Brothers said. “When they said I was the first trainer, I couldn’t believe it. I was very happy and elated.”

When Brothers retired in 2009 from full-time training, he’d won 2,359 races and $48.9 million in purses. Included were nine consecutive training titles at Louisiana Downs and five titles at the Fair Grounds. He also captured training titles at Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Oaklawn Park.

Brothers took part in one of the traditional aspects of New Orleans family life when he was young, attending races on the weekend.

The oldest of three sons of a New Orleans’ electrical contractor, Brothers began riding in the sixth grade and started showing national caliber quarter horses.

In 1970, he got a job as a hot-walker with eventual Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg at the Fair Grounds. He moved up the ladder during his 10 years with Van Berg, learning from the veteran conditioner the ins and outs of the game.

By 1972, he had taken those ins and outs, applied for his trainer’s license and got his first win. He was saddling horses at a variety of tracks for Van Berg’s sprawling operation.

“Probably for about eight of those 10 years I worked for him I was an assistant trainer,” Brothers said. “In a lot of those years, the horses ran under the assistant’s name; the assistant needed to have a trainer’s license.”

The golden years, so to speak, in Louisiana came from 1978 to 1988 as he won those training titles in New Orleans and Bossier City.

He became private trainer for Joseph Albritton’s Lazy Lane Farms and in 1989 Albritton purchased a horse named Hansel for $150,000 and put Brothers in the winner’s circle at the Preakness and Belmont Stakes — two of America’s classic Triple Crown races.

If anything gave Brothers his advantage in the racing game, besides the lessons he learned from Van Berg, it was his view of horses. He saw things in his unique way that told him what the future might hold for a thoroughbred about to go through the sale ring.

“I’m probably a bit more forgiving than some people because I’m drawing from my experience of seeing — for more years than I would like to admit — what horses looked like in the paddock and what they looked like in my barn,” he said.

“It’s great if everything falls into place physically, but in reality, most of them just aren’t perfect horses. There are flaws that you can live with and flaws that you can’t.”

One of Brothers’ other big winners was Pulpit, who won the Fountain of Youth and Blue Grass Stakes in 1997.

Pulpit finished fourth behind Silver Charm in his Kentucky Derby run but suffered an injury to his left hind leg during the race and was retired to stud duty.

He proved to be a successful stallion, producing close to 500 winners.

Pulpit was “the most brilliant horse I trained, not the most accomplished,” Brothers once said. “That would be Hansel, because he won classics.”

Brothers trained horses for clients including Claiborne Farms, Lazy Lane Farms and Bruce Lunsford before deciding to retire in 2009.

“I had a great career for a little guy,” Brothers said. “I have no regrets. I tried to play the game on the high end. I trained some wonderful horses for some very fine people. The vast majority put the horses well-being first, which is very important to me.

“I still love the game,” he said. “I love the horses, the people involved in it.”