Breen's bet on 'Ruler' pays off

Jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. on Ruler On Ice Jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. on Ruler On Ice celebrates his win. (June 11, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

advertisement | advertise on newsday

There may not be any true clairvoyants in horse racing, but there certainly are gamblers, and winning Belmont Stakes trainer Kelly Breen counts himself a member of that brotherhood.

"As a little kid," he recalled in the afterglow of Ruler On Ice's long-shot victory Saturday, "I'd go with my parents to Monmouth Park, probably three, four times a summer. I remember one day, I had $6 to bet on two trifectas. It was pretty much chalk, but I hit both trifectas.

"I'm probably 12 years old, and here I am, taking my friends to the movies and saying, 'This is my racetrack winnings; this is on me.' I was the big guy on the street because I had money in my pocket. Kind of got me hooked on gambling. I was going to the Jersey Shore, on the boardwalk, I grew up playing the wheels. By 14, I probably could've been in Gamblers' Anonymous."

At 42, Breen was on the fringes of Trainers' Anonymous, in terms of Grade I races, having never saddled a winner in any of those, and Saturday was his first Belmont Stakes.

But, in an annual event that has come to have Upset written all over it, Breen's decision to put blinkers on what he called an "immature" and "goofy" gelding, and his simple scheme to have jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. "just put him in the race and go for it," played out without a hitch.

His childhood observations of the racing game convinced Breen that "I can do what those guys can do." He wanted to be a jockey and forsook his schoolboy soccer and wrestling career to take riding lessons and muck stalls at a neighbor's farm near his Perth Amboy, N.J., home.

But a growth spurt at 16 left him "a little too big" to be a ride, so he turned to exercise riding and work as an assistant trainer at 18. By 2005, he had become the leading trainer at Monmouth Park and now works exclusively with owners Lori and George Hall.

"I come from a little town in New Jersey," he said. "It's not like I come from a horse-business family. My father and brother are steamfitters in Manhattan, and George and Lori Hall, after I started doing well, gave me the opportunity by saying, 'Why don't you come be our private trainer?' I'd love to retire with them. It's a perfect job."

"I have no name, for the most part, and now here I am in New York, New York, winning my first Grade I. After the race, George was looking for the time and I said, 'George, right now, time is for criminals. We just won the race.' "

A dapper dresser -- "I like to represent myself well and my owner well," he said -- Breen worked Saturday under a white fedora, with a pink tie. And looked every bit like a successful gambler.

You also may be interested in: