Linda Rice is arguably the best female racehorse trainer in the United States.  Until recently, she trained the 3-year-old colt Max Player.  After Max Player finished third in the 2020 Travers, his owners, George Hall and SportBLX, moved the colt from Ms. Rice’s barn to Steve Asmussen’s stable.  Mr. Hall said that Ms. Rice had done a “spectacular job” with Max Player, but wanted a trainer with “experience and infrastructure at Churchill” to prep the colt for the Kentucky Derby on September 5.

Regardless of how accustomed and hardened a trainer becomes to the vagaries of dealing with owners, episodes like this one have to hurt psychologically, even if owners’ reasons for moving their horses make sense.  However, in sports, incidents of coaches and managers (and horse trainers) being terminated are so commonplace that they are taken for granted by the media and public. 

In the National Football League, for example, some of the most successful head coaches of all time were fired at least once in their careers, including George Allen, Paul Brown, Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy, Jimmy Johnson, Tom Landry, and Mike Shanahan.  A similar list could be comprised in any major sport. 

It should be of some consolation to an accomplished horse trainer like Ms. Rice that plausibly the greatest coach in NFL history, Bill Belichick, was fired.  On the other hand, from a horse owner’s perspective, it is instructive to reflect on the fact that, since 1969, the storied Pittsburgh Steelers have won six Super Bowls and had only three head coaches. Sticking with competent individuals in good and bad times is a path to enduring success.

Linda Rice handled the transfer of Max Player with aplomb and class by tweeting “We are disappointed to see him go, but we wish George Hall and SportBLX the best of luck.” 

Here’s wishing Linda “best of luck” in eventually winning the Kentucky Derby.

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