Vicchrilli goes from jockey to trainer
The racetrack — the early morning workouts and weekend races — has been calling Russell Vicchrilli for nearly 30 years. Vicchrilli, a jockey turned trainer from Wiggins, Colo., has experienced winning from both sides, recently adding his first two consecutive wins as a trainer to his lengthy winning record on the track. In his 26-year jockey career, he amassed 677 victories and 4,418 races.
Vicchrilli, originally from Utah, accompanied his father to the racetrack to have some horses exercised in 1987. The young man grew tired of waiting and asked his father if he could give it a try.
“I went out there and tried it and it was a little different,” he said. “My dad had an old horse that was idiot proof and I put a flat saddle on her and practiced and practiced for about a week.”
The next time his dad allowed him to exercise horses at the track, Vicchrilli was ready. He continued exercising horses at the track for about two years until he graduated from high school.
“I wasn’t really thinking about being a jockey,” he said. “I was working for my uncle in the wrecking yard and I was thinking about being a tow truck driver. For some reason, I decided to try it.”
Horse owners at the track in Utah would pay $3 per head for Vicchrilli to gallop them around the track and he enjoyed what he thought at the time was easy money, especially galloping 30 horses per day.
At that point, Vicchrilli began working with respected Quarter horse trainer, the late Ed Giles. Giles asked Vicchrilli to help break horses during the fall and winter for the races Giles’ horses ran across the Intermountain West. When Giles retired in 1995, Vicchrilli continued to work with his son, Wes, also a respected trainer in New Mexico.
In 1995, Vicchrilli raced in New Mexico at the state’s well-known tracks before moving to Colorado. His record is impressive riding both Quarter horses and Thoroughbreds.
“Riding is different than training in the sense that once I leg the rider up, I have no control over the situation anymore,” he said. “As a rider, I thought I always had a little control as to how it went.”
The transition has not been without its challenges and he admits that he will end the summer with more gray hair than he had at its start. That aside, he is enjoying learning the other side of the track. He has long trained horses during the off season and then returned to the track to ride in the summer. He continues to ride and break horses but he listened to his body and retired from riding as a jockey last year.
“I’m no spring chicken,” he said. “I didn’t want to go from riding at a high level to not riding at a high level and I wanted to end my career riding at a high level. I was at the point when it was time to move on but it was a tough decision.”
Vicchrilli noted the time spent hands-on at the track is more intense as a trainer. The time is spent managing feeding, lameness and general health and performance in all of the 15 horses he has at Arapahoe Park. Ten of the horses under Vicchrilli are 2 year olds, a challenging situation for anyone.
Ms Wild Rush is a filly Vicchrilli broke and sent on to Sean Davis to race out of state. The filly performed fairly well but Vicchrilli maintained she would be a better 3-year-old on the track. When Davis decided to leave Arapahoe Park for Prairie Meadows in Iowa, Vicchrilli saw an opportunity to pick up another Colorado bred horse from owner Fran Frank.
“You have to follow your gut,” he said.
READY TO RUN
The filly spent the winter with Davis, running one spring race with mediocre results after a poor break. When she returned to Vicchrilli, she was in good shape and he made certain she was ready to run at Arapahoe Park.
“I kept thinking to myself that I knew that horse was better,” he said. “He sent her up to me and she was conditioned really good. I took her and there was nothing wrong with her. She just had a bad trip.”
After minor adjustments, Ms Wild Rush won her first race of the year easily, beginning a promising career as a 3-year-old and chalking up Vicchrilli’s first win as a trainer. Two weeks later, the filly won her second race in the same style, making it two in a row. Always a competitor no matter his role, Vicchrilli is enjoying the atmosphere of winning.
“I love horses,” he said. “I always have. I think they’re great athletes. They’re competitive and they’ll run for you and do whatever you want if they’re happy and sound. ❖