IT IS NOT UNCOMMON for people to sacrifice part of their career for personal reasons with the hopes of gaining that part back in the future. Horse racing is no different, and Phil Gleaves is one example of that.
After having a career that quickly took off by winning the 1986 Travers with Wise Times in his second year as a trainer, then making a parental decision that pretty much localized him in Florida for the last 15 years, Gleaves has come back to Saratoga for a full-time commitment of training horses on the New York racing circuit.
“We are looking forward to the meet and we are happy to be here,” the 61-year-old Gleaves said. “I feel a lot of gratitude for being here. Having been away for so long, it means so much more being back here.”
With just eight 2-year-olds training at Saratoga since the end of April, Gleaves has already won with two of them over the Belmont turf course: Yes and Yes at 36-1 and Swamp Rat at 24-1. He is planning for at least one of them to come back for an allowance race at the end of the month or one of the following stakes races on the turf: The Skidmore on Aug. 17, The With Anticipation on Aug. 29, or P.G. Johnson on Aug. 30.
“It was nice getting those two wins,” Gleaves said. “We have some hopeful expectations for those horses.”
Gleaves has not started a horse at Saratoga since 2014 when Csaba, a multiple graded stakes winner who was also second in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Stakes, finished fifth in the Alydar Stakes.
However, Gleaves has a legitimate reason for his limited trips to New York: his son Schuyler.
Coming out of the 2003 Saratoga meet when Doc’s Doll won back-to-back races, Gleaves had to make a career decision that would keep him in Florida for Schuyler, who graduated with both a high school diploma and associate’s degree in engineering from College Academy at Broward College and is now a computer science major at the University of Florida.
“I was a single dad when he was three,” Gleaves said. “I wanted to find a place where I could keep him in one school system and not bounce around from state to state. So, I choose Miami. I was able to train year-round down there, and I would come up here once in a while to race horses.”
Besides Csaba, Gleaves had some success with other horses on the Florida circuit that included graded stakes winner Mambo Meister and stakes winner Rizwan. Still, his plan was eventually returning to Saratoga.
After Schuyler graduated high school, Gleaves and his wife Amy decided to come back to Saratoga. Along with being stabled next to Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen near the Oklahoma Training Track, he and Amy purchase a house in Ballston Spa.
“That was always going to be the plan to return to Saratoga, but Schuyler’s needs came first,” Gleaves said. “Amy and I thought it was the right time to relocate. Schuyler gave us his blessing. Miami was good to us, but I enjoy new challenges and change. I find that extra pep in the step when taking on
Along with the personal sacrifice, Gleaves believes he also had to adapt to his training needs. Along with winning the Haskell and Super Derby with Wise Times, then winning other graded stakes races with Evening Kris and Phantom Jet, Gleaves watched his stable grow quickly from 30 to 60 horses, which wasn’t necessarily a good professional move. Even his mentor – the late Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens – had
“Because of that early success, I took on a lot of horses and I shouldn’t have done that,” Gleaves said. “I got a lot of mediocre horses. Woody Stephens pulled me off to the side and said this was not the way to go. He was right. Ever since then, I tried to work with something that was manageable for me.”
With his small stable of 2-year-olds, Gleaves is taking his approach to Saratoga like his native country of England has done in the World Cup this year.
“Every 2-year-old race is like a stakes race. These horses are going to end up in stakes races,” Gleaves said. “After saying that, there is something to be said about countries playing in the World Cup. There is something about getting there. To be here at Saratoga, it is like England being in the World Cup. Getting there to that quarterfinal stage of World Cup, that’s the feeling that you get at Saratoga.”