10 best horse racing trainers in the world
The top 10 horse racing trainers in the world is obviously a matter of opinion, but there are some that just have to be included on any top thoroughbred trainers’ list, courtesy of an impressive record, dominance of the sport over a long period of time or even just an impressive run of wins that see them shoot up the rankings.
Thoroughbred racing is known as the sport of kings, but a trainer’s existence is anything but regal. There are the horrendously early starts, the heartbreak, bad luck in races, losing horses to other trainers for myriad reasons … and so on.
In short, the life of a trainer is tough. There are no legal short cuts and those who rise to the top in this highly competitive field deserve the plaudits.
They need to be master horsemen and women, have impeccable judgment and be able to deal with sometimes difficult owners and jockeys, win, lose or draw.
How did we settle on our final top horse trainers list?
In truth, many of the trainers on this list chose themselves by virtue of consistently outstanding results over a long period of time.
They are all regular visitors to the winner’s circle of the top group 1 races at the biggest carnivals. They are all contenders in their local championship races and turn their horses out in great order, every time.
Many of the names on our best horse trainers list are already or soon will be named in the various halls of fame around the world.
And you can trust that when you back any of their horses, they will more than likely give you a great run for your money.
1. Aidan O’Brien
Home base: Ireland
As the trainer for the massive Coolmore operation, O’Brien has been a dominant force on the world stage for many years. From the legendary training base of Ballydoyle Stables in County Tipperary, O’Brien soared to new heights in 2017 when he set a world record by training 26 group 1 or grade 1 winners for the calendar year, eclipsing the mark of 25 set by the legendary US trainer Bobby Frankel in 2003.
Coolmore is a major player in the breeding world so, of course, O’Brien has access to the finest bloodlines, but it takes a rare talent to be able to turn so many of them into top-notch racehorses. Just consider some of the champions he has trained since he started preparing horses for Coolmore in 1996: Galileo, Johannesburg, Hawk Wing, Rock Of Gibraltar, High Chaparral, Yeats, George Washington, Alexandrova, Dylan Thomas, Duke Of Marmalade, Henrythenavigator, Mastercraftsman, Fame And Glory, Rip Van Winkle, Camelot.
It is an imposing list for O’Brien, whose talent was apparent even before he hooked up with Coolmore. He was the champion Irish National Hunt trainer for five consecutive seasons in the 1990s and he has been the champion flat racing trainer in Ireland every year since 1999. A master of his craft and sits comfortably at no.1 on our top horse racing trainers list.
2. Bob Baffert
Home base: United States
In the modern history of the American classic races, the silver-haired Baffert is a towering figure. Of course, he has famously trained American Pharoah and Justify to Triple Crown glory in 2015 and 2018, but his legend in races such as the Kentucky Derby was already well established.
Baffert has won an incredible five Kentucky Derbies, seven Preakness Stakes, three Belmont Stakes and three Kentucky Oaks. Not to mention 15-odd Breeders’ Cup races and three Dubai World Cups. Not bad for a former quarterhorse rider and trainer from Nogales, Arizona.
Baffert is one of the most recognisable horse racing figures in the world and you can be sure when the Kentucky Derby next rolls around he will be front and centre with his latest blueblood contender.
3. Team Godolphin
Home base: Dubai, Britain, Australia
Overall, Godolphin, the racing stables of the Maktoum family of the UAE, has claims to being the world’s biggest and best. Indeed, two of their three principal trainers, Saeed bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby, would have strong claims to make this list in their own right, while the third, James Cummings, is racing royalty in Australia and down the track seems certain to reach great heights. That is quite aside from the other trainers who prepare horses for the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum-owned operation which has won countless group 1s in so many countries.
Godolphin is fed by the group’s massive breeding operation Darley. Godolphin and Darley are named for two of the three original thoroughbred stallions. When Godolphin sets its sights on winning the world’s biggest races, it usually achieves its goals, no matter the time or expense it takes. Case in point, after many years of trying and near misses, they finally won the Melbourne Cup in 2018 with Cross Counter. The last frontier may be the Kentucky Derby, and Godolphin has enlisted the help of Bob Baffert on that front. Watch this space.
4. John Gosden
Home base: Britain
Gosden, unlike many of his fellow trainers, is not a former jockey who turned to training and is one of the best in the world. For a start, he stands at an imposing 195 centimetres!
Gosden though was born into racing as the son of a trainer, John “Towser” Gosden. Had he not followed his father into the training ranks, he no doubt would have made a success at whatever he turned his hand to. He is an economics graduate from Cambridge University where he was an outstanding athlete in discus and javelin. He learned his craft from his father as well as from his time as an assistant to legendary trainers Vincent O’Brien and Noel Murless.
He also switched to the United States and trained there for a decade plus with great success before returning to Britain, where he has continued to thrive and won almost every race worth winning. The mighty mare Enable, a dual Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner, has kept Gosden’s name up in lights in recent years. A class act.
5. Andre Fabre
Home base: France
This Spanish-born legend had a tough call to make after graduating from university with a law degree, and it seems he pulled the right rein. Instead of employing his degree he became one of France’s leading jumps jockey, and later clearly its greatest horse trainer.
Fabre has won races all around the world and achieved a lifelong goal when he won the English Derby with Pour Moi in 2011. But even more impressive is the fact he has won 24 French trainers’ title, including 21 in a row from 1987 to 2007. He also has won his country’s greatest race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, seven times. Maybe not as dominant as he was, but you can still be sure that whenever he turns out a contender in a big race, he is a rival to be feared.
6. Todd Pletcher
Home base: United States
If the California-based Bob Baffert can lay claim to being the king of US racing, arguably his greatest rival, the Texan Todd Pletcher, surveys the kingdom from the other side. Pletcher is based in New York, and has a record as a trainer that is the envy of all. He honed his craft as the right-hand man for the legendary D. Wayne Lukas and has won the Eclipse Award as US trainer of the year seven times, including four times in a row from 2004-2007.
But as with all these champion trainers it is on the biggest stage where they are set apart from the rest. Pletcher’s charges have won regularly at the Breeders’ Cup and his crowning glories are Kentucky Derby wins with Super Saver in 2010 and Always Dreaming in 2017. At the age of 51 you can be sure there are plenty more grade one winners on the way for Pletcher, who has collected more prizemoney than any other trainer in US history at somewhere north of $US370 million.
7. Mike de Kock
Nationality: South African
Home base: South Africa
One of South Africa’s greatest ever trainers, de Kock is really on the map as a pioneer of travelling horses abroad, an endeavour in which he has found great success. He has enjoyed particular success in Dubai after attracting the attention of leviathan owners such as Sheikl Hamdan Al Maktoum, part of the Godolphin family.
De Kock was not born into a racing family but learned his craft the hard way as part of the SA Defence Force’s equestrian unit as a teenager and later working for top trainer Ormond Ferraris. He has won all the major races in his homeland many times as well finding success in England, the US, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai. De Kock, a keen golfer, says on his website: “It’s like a golfer wanting to play the majors. I want to be competitive at all the best meetings, that is my ambition.’’
8. Chris Waller
Nationality: New Zealander
Home base: Sydney, Australia
The forthright New Zealander, who grew up in the town of Foxton on New Zealand’s North Island, arrived in Sydney unknown and near penniless in 2000. Less than 20 years later he is the undisputed No.1 trainer in Australia, with bases at Rosehill and Warwick Farm in Sydney, Flemington in Melbourne and the Gold Coast. And of course he is the trainer of the horse rated the world’s best, Winx, which at the time of writing had put together 30 consecutive wins, many at the top level of racing in Australia, including four successive Cox Plates.
Waller puts his phenomenal success down to meticulous preparation, making sure his horses eat only the best food and are surrounded by the best staff. It truly is a numbers game. Waller has a massive numbers of horses under his care, but it’s a testament to his ability that the winning percentage remain so high. It may be many years before he is unseated as the king of the Australian training ranks.
9. Chad C. Brown
Home base: United States
One of the rising starts of the US ranks, Brown is a graduate in animal science from Cornell University and honed his craft working as an assistant to Robert Frankel in 2002. He stepped out on his own with a small stable on 2008 and in the decade since has rocketed up the ranks to claim a hat-trick of Eclipse Awards as the outstanding trainer in the US from 2016-2018. He has started to collect an impressive array of feature-race wins, none bigger than the 2017 Preakness Stakes with Cloud Computing. It may be early to be including Brown on this list, but he has arrived at the top of the ranks in the United States and appears likely to stay there for many years.
10. John Size
Home base: Hong Kong
Size could be considered a surprise pick on this list, but we would counter that he has an incredible knack with horses that demands his inclusion. He turned up to the racing hotbed of Sydney from Queensland and proceeded to turn convention on its head. So successful was he with improving cast-offs from other stables, using a lot of swimming, a rigid feeding regime and more barrier trials than his rivals, he rose to a place among the top few in the trainers’ premiership.
A quiet, thoughtful man, Size moved to Hong Kong in 2001 and has won 10 premierships there, a monumental achievement when you consider he is matched up against great trainers suck as John Moore, Caspar Fownes and Tony Cruz. A Hall of Fame trainer and well deserving of a spot on this list.
Which trainers just missed our final list?
There are so many legendary trainers still plying their trade with great success, but of course we could not include them all on best top horse racing trainers list.
Some of those we considered include: In the US, Steve Asmussen, Australians such as David Hayes, Peter Snowden, John Hawkes and Gai Waterhouse, Alain de Royer-Dupre of France, British legend Michael Stoute, HK mainstays John Moore, Caspar Fownes and A.S.Cruz, Murray Baker of New Zealand and SJ Snaith in South Africa.