As a former social studies teacher and guidance counselor, with a Master’s degree in counseling, Thoroughbred trainer Bernell Rhone stressed the value of education to daughter LeAnn and son Scott.
The North Dakota native didn’t intend for his children to follow him into racing, insisting they attend at least one year of college first. Yet the 35-year veteran beams with pride when discussing their involvement in the sport.
LeAnn, 32 and his current assistant, worked under perennial leading North American trainer Steve Asmussen for seven years. She is married to jockey Dean Butler, who rides the majority of Rhone’s horses; the Butlers have two daughters, Kayleigh, 5, and Kendall, 1.
Scott, 29, is a blacksmith who shoes Dad’s horses and has forged a reputation as a hard-working, reliable member of the backstretch community. He is married to jockey Brittany Arterburn Rhone.
Like many in the racing game, Bernell Rhone and his wife Cindy, who helps run and organize the barn, recognize the future of racing is more uncertain than ever. But they’re not looking to make any trades, for themselves or their offspring.
“This is in (LeAnn and Scott’s) blood. And it’s kind of like a disease,” said Bernell Rhone, named the Hurricane Grill & Wings Trainer of the Month after a recent 9-for-19 winning streak, including 5-for-6 on Tampa Bay Derby weekend.
“To an outside person this looks like a ‘carny’ lifestyle, and it is to some extent. But we don’t have any problem getting up in the morning, and when you have a little bit of luck, you’re real happy with what you’re doing.
“Yes, the game is getting tougher, but it’s nice to have the family around,” Rhone added. “And we get along well, working-wise. They are always looking out for my interests, and when I go to another track, I can count on them helping out.”
Rhone plans to return to Canterbury after the current Tampa Bay Downs meeting and spend late summer and fall at Remington Park in Oklahoma before coming back to Tampa Bay Downs. He is an Oldsmar resident.
Over the past few weeks, Rhone has vaulted into a tie for fourth in the Tampa Bay Downs trainer standings with 17 victories, trailing only Jamie Ness, Jorge Navarro and Gerald Bennett.
Rhone knows something about getting on a hot streak. On Aug. 14, 2003 at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn., he saddled six winners from seven starters.
“I thought my first one was my best shot, and when it ran fourth or fifth I said to myself, ‘It’s going to be a long night,’ ” Rhone recalls. It actually was much longer than he expected. “I couldn’t even sleep that night,” says Rhone, a member of Canterbury Park’s Hall of Fame. “The only thing I regret is, I didn’t buy a lottery ticket.”
Rhone was almost unbeatable last week. His winners included two horses who won their third consecutive starts: Wayne Scanlan’s 8-year-old gelding Gold Brew (a former $5,000 claiming horse) in a turf allowance and Cindy Rhone’s 5-year-old mare She’s On Her Way in a claiming race.
Two weeks earlier, Rhone’s 4-year-old filly Paris by Night won a division of the Tampa Turf Test, paying $30.80 to win.
Butler rode all five Rhone-trained winners last week. “He is making me look good,” Butler said. “It’s a lot of hard work and dedication – he deserves every ounce of success he gets.”
Rhone has won 1,140 races. Some of his top runners include multiple-stakes winner Dontbotherknocking, a Farma Way gelding who won more than $700,000; Indiana-bred gelding Heza Wild Guy, who won eight stakes, 30 races overall and more than $650,000; Minnesota-bred multiple-stakes winning distaffer Dot’s Moment; and Game N Laughin,’ who won the 2008 Lightning City Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs as a 5-year-old mare at odds of 29-1.
Rhone is quick to spread the credit among his staff. In addition to Cindy and LeAnn, he employs five grooms and two exercise riders – one of whom, Jesus Escalante, has worked for him for 17 years.
“Between my family and my help, they are the ones who contribute to making me look good,” Rhone said. “People ask me if I’m thinking about retiring, but as long as I’m physically able to train, I think I’ll be out here quite a while.”
Rhone says, if anything, he is in a position where he can settle down. “With the help I have, I think I could be gone two weeks and everything would run like normal, except for the entries,” he said.
The lack of rain in recent weeks has made the Tampa Bay Downs dirt track faster than usual, resulting in an assault on track records at sprint distances. On Wednesday’s card, a track record was established for five-and-a-half furlongs for the second time in two weeks in a $20,000-$18,000 claiming race.
Lady of Greatness, a 6-year-old mare owned by Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc. and trained by Jamie Ness, blazed the distance in 1:02.79, eclipsing Only Win’s two-week old record by .66 seconds. Lady of Greatness was ridden by Leandro Goncalves and won by 11 ½ lengths, setting rapid fractions of 22.04 for the quarter-mile and 45.19 for the half.
Lasy of Greatness, a Florida-bred daughter of Greatness-Belong to Rita, by Belong to Me, is now 8-for-34 in her career with 10 runner-up finishes.
The 6 ½-furlong record has also been broken twice at the current meeting, most recently Saturday by 5-year-old gelding Action Andy, who lowered the mark to 1:15.47.
Tampa Bay Downs jockeys won both $100,000 races at Monday’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Day of Champions at the OBS sales facility.
In the OBS Championship Colt and Gelding Division, Angel Serpa guided first-time starter Crafty Unicorn to a 1 ¾-length victory from Burn the Mortgage. Crafty Unicorn, a 3-year-old colt by Friends Lake, was bred by Sabrina Plumley and Harold Plumley and is owned and trained by Dennis Manning.
Serpa and Manning teamed to win the Feb. 25 Tampa Bay Stakes on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs with long shot Roman Tiger.
Leandro Goncalves won the OBS Championship Filly Division with Andrew’s Girl, who beat Oaks Lily by a length-and-a-half. The winner, a daughter of Lawyer Ron, was bred by Stonewall Farm Stallions, LLC and is owned by Marc Haisfield.
Edgar Estevez trains 3-year-old Andrew’s Girl, who broke her maiden Feb. 18 on the Tampa Bay Downs turf course under Goncalves.
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Thursday with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.
Information on The Silks Poker Room can now be found on Bravo Poker Live at http://www.bravopokerlive.com
, as well as a mobile app on Android phones and iPhones. Bravo Poker Live enables players to check out the current live action and tournaments in local poker rooms, as well as promotions, utilizing the Bravo poker room management and player tracking system.
The listing distance is configurable as well as your current location. Use the search function to find the nearest poker room playing your favorite live game or tournament.