The EQUITHRIVE Trainer of the Quarter has been won by Kellyn Gorder.
Kellyn and his team will receive a selection of EQUITHRIVE's clinically proven supplements for the barn.
Words - Bill Heller
When trainer Kellyn Gorder fell head-over-heels in love with horseracing as a kid growing up in Worthington, Minnesota, he had an idol. “I wanted to be a rider,” Gorder said. “Steve Cauthen was my hero. I wanted to be just like Steve. I read The Kid (Pete Axthelm’s brilliant biography of Cauthen) 10 times. I wore it out.”
Not only would Gorder go on work for Cauthen’s brother, Doug, at WinStar Farm, but he would meet Steve and train a couple of his horses. And that was before Gorder would train his first superstar, Sandra Sexton and Brandi Nicholson’s brilliant three-year-old filly Red Ruby.
Of course, Gorder had no idea that he’d make it as a Thoroughbred trainer, but he knew one thing at a very early age: he loved horses. And he didn’t get it from his father, a schoolteacher, nor his mother, an office worker. “I didn’t know where I got it, but I had the horse bug,” he said. “In grade school, I signed all my papers Cowboy Kell.”
Gorder was 10 when his parents bought him a pony and converted their garage into a stall. Two years later, he went to work with horses. His neighbor, Dale Peters, was the sheriff of the county and a Thoroughbred owner. “I told him when I was old enough, I wanted to start working for him,” Gorder said. “I did, when I was 12.”
Quickly, he got a break. When the young man galloping horses for Peters tore his ACL playing football, Peters asked Gorder, “Do you want to get up?” Gorder continued, “I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said. “I said, ‘Heck, yeah, put me on.’”
Gorder got his jockey’s license when he was 16. When he grew too big to continue riding, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Gorder turned his attention to training. He spent one year with Harris Farms in California, then had the great fortune of being hired by Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, which allowed him to return to the Midwest. Gorder survived a humiliating first day for Van Berg when his saddle slipped on the first horse he galloped, but stayed on with Van Berg for five years. “He was my racetrack dad,” Gorder said.
Gorder worked at the 505 Training Center (now Victory Haven) for five years in Lexington, Kentucky, then struck out on his own in 2001. He won his first race with his first starter, Grammarian, who won his maiden debut at odds of 55-1 at Kentucky Downs before going on to win the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park in 2002 at 29-1, providing the trainer with his first graded stakes win.
In 2003, Doug Cauthen called with an offer to work at WinStar Farm, which meant Gorder had to give up training on his own. “I had two young daughters at the time and it seemed like a good thing to do,” Gorder said. So he did.
But in 2007, Gorder decided to go back to training. “I was about to turn 40, and I was telling myself I didn’t want to wind up saying, ‘You should have tried it.’ If I was going to do it, I needed to get going,” he said.
He began with four Thoroughbreds. But with the support of WinStar, his stable grew to 60 horses at one point. He’s based at Keeneland now with 25 to 30 horses, led by star Red Ruby, who followed a 4¾ length victory in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan with a jaw-dropping 13-length romp in the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks on July 7th.
“It was kind of shocking to see her that far in front,” Gorder said. “It was a great day, that’s for sure.”
Cowboy Kell has made it.
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August - October 2018, issue 49 (PRINT)
August - October 2018, issue 49 (DOWNLOAD)