Rodolphe Brisset - The Frenchman making his mark on American racing

The calendar will show that Rodolphe Brisset passed the one-year mark as a trainer on April 1st, but he’s quickly making a name for himself with the success of Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip. Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and SF Racing, the win put the Distorted Humor colt on the list for consideration for the spring classics and gave his young trainer his first graded stakes win.    “Winning that race was very rewarding and emotional, but you have to make sure you keep your feet on the ground, enjoy it for a day or two and then regroup and try to get another one,” said the humble Brisset.    Delve deeper into his record over his first year as a trainer and it becomes apparent that come the first Saturday in May, Brisset will have plenty to cheer about should either Justify or Noble Indy get their nose down in front on the wire.    Brisset may be most recognized as a former assistant trainer for Hall of Famer Bill Mott, but the French native has been working with and riding horses for much of his 34 years. Growing up in the countryside of Tours, France, Brisset and his sister spent weekends at the family vacation home about 30 miles from his parents’ restaurant and down the road from a horse ranch. With no family connection to horses, it was at the ranch that Brisset picked up the horse-riding bug, beginning lessons at age five. He took naturally to riding and progressed quickly.    “I think I was born to be on the racehorse,” Brisset joked from his base at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky. “It’s really something that feels very natural for me. I’m more comfortable on the horse than on my feet.”    As Brisset’s aptitude for horses grew, he competed in cross-country and dressage and was at the ranch most every day, even helping break their young horses. By age 10 he was riding in France’s popular pony races. At 12, representatives from the esteemed AFASEC School in Chantilly, France, approached the pre-teen after his win in a pony race that was sandwiched between races on Chantilly’s regular racing card. His future was set. Brisset enrolled in the school at age 14 and attended for two years before riding his first professional race as a jockey at age 16, the earliest he could be licensed. But with his body still growing, a career as a jockey would not last long.     “It was fun,” recalled Brisset. “But from 18 to 21, it was tough, between the weight and maybe I started to mature and realize that I was not very good as a jockey, I just started to think about something else.”    With his dreams of being a jockey coming to an end, Brisset looked for other opportunities in the industry. Though he couldn’t ride in the afternoon races, his nearly 20 years of experience riding and working with horses made him an excellent exercise rider and horseman. Recognized for his talents on and off the racetrack, Brisset was offered a job with one of France’s leading trainers, Alain de Royer-Dupré, where he learned how to make the transition from jockey to assistant trainer.    “It was a big change for me,” said Brisset. “He’s a very detail-oriented person. He’s the one that gave me that passion about getting your horse ready to the point that you get the best out of them for the start. I started to get on some of the horses that were difficult in the morning and we tried to fix them. The turn for me between being a jockey and trainer. I spent time with him and it really made me realize that this was something maybe I would be, an assistant trainer, and, maybe at some point, train.”     After two years with de Royer-Dupré, Brisset wanted to strengthen his marketability in the industry and learn English. He put the word out that he was looking for an opening in an English-speaking country. Fellow Frenchman Julien Leparoux, a friend he’d met earlier during a summer riding races at Deauville-La Touques in France, was in the U.S. working as an exercise rider for trainer Patrick Biancone, and he encouraged Biancone to bring Brisset over as an exercise rider.     Brisset arrived in the U.S. in 2005, just before Leparoux made the jump from exercise rider to apprentice jockey. The pair roomed together and developed a fast friendship, together navigating the opportunities in a new country. Twelve years later, in June 2017, when Brisset saddled his first winner as a trainer, Leparoux, now a multiple Eclipse-winning jockey consistently ranked among the top 10 earners, was there to guide Lady Soul to her maiden win.    “It’s been a goal, a dream, for him to be a trainer, and for me to be one of his best friends, it’s great to be able to win his first race,” said Leparoux. “He’s been waiting for it and when we got it done, it was a great, great feeling.”    Brisset put in more than a decade of hard work to get to that first win. After two years with Biancone, Brisset moved on to an assistant trainer position with Bill Mott. Over the course of his 10 years with the Hall of Famer, Brisset had the chance to work with some of the sport’s best horses, including Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer, Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Tourist, and multiple Eclipse-winning mare Royal Delta, among others. Brisset worked closely with Leana Willaford, another assistant under Mott, who Brisset regards as one of the best in the business. Mott supported Brisset in many ways, even going to battle for him when the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services denied a renewal of his visa in 2014. His time under Mott not only taught him how to train horses, but how to run a business and how to keep working through the struggles to reach the milestones. Through Mott, a man Brisset has described as a father figure, he learned that success is not gained by the individual, but by the team.     “I found more a family than a job,” said Brisset. “It was teamwork and great horses. I kept progressing with him. When I got into immigration trouble, he helped me. In the first three years with him, it was learning to work with him, learning a lot as horseman, as a person, maturing. In the last seven years, I was traveling for him, running good horses, he let me deal with the press, and he put me out in front. He really helped me in many ways to build up to the point where I decided to go on my own.”     With Mott’s blessing and encouragement from wife, Brooke, a former exercise rider for Graham Motion and Claude “Shug” McGaughey, Brisset made the leap and opened a training operation under his own name on April 1, 2017.     When he decided to leave the stability of Mott’s barn, Brisset knew he would need a good supply of horses to build his stable. He approached WinStar Farm CEO Elliott Walden, with whom he had worked during his tenure with Mott. Walden agreed to send him some older horses as well as approximately 20 of WinStar’s young two-year-olds that were ready to start the next phase in their preparation for the racetrack. Several in that group would make up some of WinStar’s current batch of Kentucky Derby hopefuls—Justify, Noble Indy, Quip—but the understanding was that Brisset was only responsible for preparing the lot for their eventual trainers, and his may not be the name listed in the program when the horse made its first start. The deal gave each partner something they needed. Brisset needed horses to fill the stalls he’d secured at Keeneland and WinStar needed a dependable trainer with access to a larger track for training. Over the long relationship WinStar had with Mott they were able to predict that this would be a winning wager.    “We already knew that he was going to be somebody you could trust to send a horse to, someone we thought would run a good operation, and the horsemanship was never a question,” said Sean Tugel, WinStar’s director of bloodstock services and assistant racing manager. “From the time Elliott and I saw him work at Bill’s, there was no question when he approached us to see if we would send him some horses, whether we would or would not. We knew that he was a very talented horseman.”    Brisset’s training style is different than many of his competitors in that he still rides and breezes his own horses. It’s an advantageous method to his training that few others share, and it allows him to not only witness his horse’s run, but control it and feel what changes may need to be made. Although many of the WinStar two-year-olds moved on — including leading three-year-olds Justify to Bob Baffert and Noble Indy to Todd Pletcher — Brisset’s unique skills and abilities proved there was no better trainer for the immature and challenging Quip.    “It’s probably my biggest weapon to start my business, to be able to get on horses myself,” Brisset explained. “It’s an advantage to be able to get on your own horses, exercise them every day and build a relationship with the horse.”    While breezing his own horses has helped in his business, Brisset is part of the next generation of horsemen who have evolved under the eye of social media. It can be a blessing or a curse with immediate praise when you find success or scrutiny when you don’t. Active on Twitter and Facebook, Brisset sees it as another tool in his arsenal and a way to promote his brand and grow his business.    “It might make the job a little easier for us,” said Brisset. “When you look at it, you wonder how those guys did it 20 or 30 years ago. It’s a tool we have to use and it makes our job maybe a little easier.”    Most days you can find the mild-mannered Brisset in the barn or on the racetrack; his dedication to his career is evident in his work ethic. In his first year, Brisset has built his stable to around 20 horses and his clientele to more than a dozen owners. He’s started more than 100 races and garnered earnings in upwards of $620,000. He competes on the main stage, making Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds, and Tampa Bay his circuit. Similar to many trainers, he aspires to someday win a Breeders’ Cup race or one of the classics of the Triple Crown. His accomplishments thus far show that he may have the ability to get there.    “I think he’s done an exceptional job maturing as a trainer,” said Tugel. “You can see by the quality of clients he’s getting into his barn that he’s done a good job promoting himself the proper way—through results. He’s progressed very well and he’s only been doing it a year, but I think the sky’s the limit for him.”    Brisset credits all of those who have come into his life with getting him to where he is today. From his time with de Royer-Dupré, his journey to the U.S. made possible by Leparoux and Biancone, his education and apprenticeship with Mott, and the support and encouragement of his wife, the help of those around him have not gone unnoticed.     “I know a lot of people were expecting me to be successful,” said Brisset. “I put a lot of pressure on myself too because I want to be proud of what I do and want the whole Mott team to be proud. It’s what makes me get up even quicker in the morning. I think it’s very important in my eyes to make those people proud. Nothing is taken for granted. We still have a long way to go and I don’t want to get up there for two or three years. We have to keep going forward and keep our feet on the ground.”    The “American Dream” has long been a term used to describe personal success. Brisset’s journey embodies that sentiment. At times it might seem a bit cliché, but the American Dream is about taking the opportunities that come your way and capitalizing on your strengths. It represents the chance to realize your dreams and the hope that through hard work you’ll find success.     “What is beautiful about this country is that it doesn’t matter what is your last name, it doesn’t matter where you come from,” said Brisset. “If you prove to people you can do it, you are good enough, and you’re a hard worker, they’ll give you a shot.”

By Jessie Oswald

The calendar will show that Rodolphe Brisset passed the one-year mark as a trainer on April 1st, but he’s quickly making a name for himself with the success of Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip. Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and SF Racing, the win put the Distorted Humor colt on the list for consideration for the spring classics and gave his young trainer his first graded stakes win.

“Winning that race was very rewarding and emotional, but you have to make sure you keep your feet on the ground, enjoy it for a day or two and then regroup and try to get another one,” said the humble Brisset.

Delve deeper into his record over his first year as a trainer and it becomes apparent that come the first Saturday in May, Brisset will have plenty to cheer about should either Justify or Noble Indy get their nose down in front on the wire.

Brisset may be most recognized as a former assistant trainer for Hall of Famer Bill Mott, but the French native has been working with and riding horses for much of his 34 years. Growing up in the countryside of Tours, France, Brisset and his sister spent weekends at the family vacation home about 30 miles from his parents’ restaurant and down the road from a horse ranch. With no family connection to horses, it was at the ranch that Brisset picked up the horse-riding bug, beginning lessons at age five. He took naturally to riding and progressed quickly.

“I think I was born to be on the racehorse,” Brisset joked from his base at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky. “It’s really something that feels very natural for me. I’m more comfortable on the horse than on my feet.”

As Brisset’s aptitude for horses grew, he competed in cross-country and dressage and was at the ranch most every day, even helping break their young horses. By age 10 he was riding in France’s popular pony races. At 12, representatives from the esteemed AFASEC School in Chantilly, France, approached the pre-teen after his win in a pony race that was sandwiched between races on Chantilly’s regular racing card. His future was set. Brisset enrolled in the school at age 14 and attended for two years before riding his first professional race as a jockey at age 16, the earliest he could be licensed. But with his body still growing, a career as a jockey would not last long.

“It was fun,” recalled Brisset. “But from 18 to 21, it was tough, between the weight and maybe I started to mature and realize that I was not very good as a jockey, I just started to think about something else.”

With his dreams of being a jockey coming to an end, Brisset looked for other opportunities in the industry. Though he couldn’t ride in the afternoon races, his nearly 20 years of experience riding and working with horses made him an excellent exercise rider and horseman. Recognized for his talents on and off the racetrack, Brisset was offered a job with one of France’s leading trainers, Alain de Royer-Dupré, where he learned how to make the transition from jockey to assistant trainer.

“It was a big change for me,” said Brisset. “He’s a very detail-oriented person. He’s the one that gave me that passion about getting your horse ready to the point that you get the best out of them for the start. I started to get on some of the horses that were difficult in the morning and we tried to fix them. The turn for me between being a jockey and trainer. I spent time with him and it really made me realize that this was something maybe I would be, an assistant trainer, and, maybe at some point, train.”

TO READ MORE --

BUY THIS ISSUE IN PRINT OR DOWNLOAD -

August - October 2018, issue 49 (PRINT)

$5.95

August - October 2018, issue 49 (DOWNLOAD)

$3.99

Why not subscribe?

Don't miss out and subscribe to receive the next four issues!

Print & Online Subscription

$24.95

Voodoo Song wins many races

Trainer of the Quarter - Brad Cox

0