Linda Rice is arguably the most successful female trainer the thoroughbred racing industry has ever seen. Linda has been one of the top ten trainers in New York for the last decade and holds the title of leading female trainer in North America. The daughter of well know trainer Clyde Rice, Linda became a third generation trainer in 1987 and began saddling horses full-time on the New York and New Jersey Circuit, and success soon followed.
To fully list Linda’s accomplishments in the industry would take up the entirety of this article; some of the highlights of Linda’s career include becoming the first woman to win a training title in New York by saddling 20 winners at Saratoga in 2009, edging Todd Pletcher by just one victory. In 2011, she tied with Todd Pletcher for the Belmont Spring Training Title and also recorded her 1,000th victory as a trainer. Linda Rice was also named Trainer of The Year by the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Association both in 2009 and 2010, which is truly an amazing accomplishment.
You come from a racing family – your father Clyde Rice was known for developing two year olds early in the year and then selling them. What are some important lessons you learned from your father that have impacted your own career?
My father’s secret was his ability to purchase talented young horses. He had a keen eye for a horse and combined with hard work, he made a name for himself.
I spent my childhood shopping auctions with my father, and I believe this had a great impact on my career. He also taught me to understand the mind of a horse through the breaking and training process, which was a great foundation for my future.
You have had almost every job one can have on the track. Did you always know you wanted to work up to being a trainer like your father?
No, I did not know that I would become a trainer. I really enjoyed riding horses at a young age; I never thought my dad’s job looked like that much fun! Eventually I started training horses on my own at the age of 23 and never looked back. I’m not sure if I chose this career or it chose me!
Who were some of your favorite horses and racing figures growing up?
One of my favorite horses was Secretariat. I remember watching the Belmont on TV and thinking to myself that horse racing was not only a big deal to my family but important to many others; he was the American Pharaoh of the ’70s.
One person that had a big impact on my family was my father’s childhood friend Wayne Lukas. He and his son Jeff were winning stakes races all over the country and setting up multiple divisions. My father was buying lots of young horses at the Keeneland sales for Wayne, and together they made a formidable team.
What are some of your favorite and least favorite parts of your job every day?
One of my favorite things is watching young horses develop into racehorses. Whether I bought the horse as a yearling or as a two year old in training or claimed the horse for $20 thousand, when they show ability in their workouts, it excites me! Usually good workouts translate into winning races, but not always.
My least favorite part of the job is to give owners bad news. It can be a heartbreaking.
What have been some of your most memorable moments at the track?
While there have been quite a few great moments, my first Grade 1 win at Saratoga in the Spinaway was one to remember. I won this race with a two year old filly that I purchased for $80 thousand named Things Change.
Another great moment was winning Two Grade 1’s at Saratoga with a horse I claimed for $20 thousand – Palace. He has gone on to become a Stallion at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky… so it’s a good thing I didn’t castrate him!
Winning the training title at Saratoga in 2009 was also a great moment. Todd Pletcher and I were in a heated battle for nearly three weeks and luckily I came out on top!
Winning the Eclipse Award with La Verdad in 2016 was very memorable as well. She was a true champion.
When you first started training, you were most proficient with grass sprinters. Even now, while you are successful with all types of horses, you tend to lean towards entering on the grass. Why is that?
I started out with grass sprinters because the turf pedigrees were inexpensive to buy at auction and I had a knack for knowing which ones would excel in turf sprints. I also think that turf is a more natural surface for horses and kinder to their long term soundness.
You have become known for turning horses you claimed into stakes winners. What do you look for in these horses?
As a young trainer, my strength was in the buying and developing of young horses. I had shopped the sales as a child with my father for years and to my surprise, I found this to be a great edge in the claiming game. I was able to evaluate lightly raced or unraced horses purely based on confirmation and pedigree with great success.
You have also been successful in keeping older horses in training. What are the different considerations in training two year olds versus older horses?
Over the years, I have found that the young horses get ready to run at different times – some early, some late, some never! The key is to avoid hurting them at a young age. When they need time, give it to them.
The older horses benefit from a break from training as well. I’m a big believer in giving them a 90 day break when they are going the wrong way. Two great examples are Palace and La Verdad, who were recently retired to the breeding shed. La Verdad won the Interborough in her last start, and Palace was second, beaten a nose in the Fall Highweight; both sprinters retired sound at the age of 6.
You had great success training La Verdad and others for Lady Sheila Stable. How did you meet Sheila Rosenblum?
Sheila had a group of two year olds in Kentucky and wanted to re-locate them to New York, where she lives. She interviewed several trainers in October of 2012, and I got the job!
Who are some of your favorite horses in training? Any names we should watch out for in the future?
Currently, I have two special fillies in the barn, one is High Ridge Road who is pointed towards the G2 Barbara Fritchie at Laurel on February 18th. We received her last Winter from owner Martin Schwartz, and she has really blossomed over the last year. The other filly is Hot City Girl. She is the half-sister to La Verdad by City Zip. She is scheduled to run in the Broadway Stakes at Aqueduct on February 18th.
You have won multiple training titles, but winning the training title in Saratoga a few years ago must have been a thrill! What is the key to Saratoga?
Saratoga is my favorite place to win a race, but winning a training title at Saratoga is not an easy task. The key to Saratoga is having enough ammunition …good horses … to have an impact. The year I won the title, it had rained at Belmont for two months, and I scratched all my turf horses. At Saratoga, the sky’s cleared and my turf horses won everything in sight!
Are there more dreams and goals you would still like to accomplish in your career?
Yes, absolutely. One of my many dreams is to win the Travers. I have a picture above my fireplace of Bernardini winning the Travers with J.J. Castellano aboard. I can only hope to be there one day.
And lastly, as one of the leading ladies in racing, have you experienced any challenges being a woman in the industry? What advice would you give women starting in the industry?
Yes, of course. For a long time, people were not willing to entrust a woman with their top horses, but this has changed dramatically over the years. My advice to women starting in the industry is to work hard, think big… and make sure you win!
Linda Rice is undoubtedly one of the most highly awarded and accomplished females the industry has ever seen and perhaps ever will. It was truly an honor to learn more about her and her career as leading female trainer in North America. Thank you so much for this look inside your life, Linda!