I’m not that consumed with winning the Kentucky Derby

A short post about deciding what’s important to you.

If I had to name my favorite trainers in the world of horse racing, Charlie LoPresti would easily be in my top three. If I had to name my favorite chapter of a book, it might be the chapter called, “What’s Important to You?” from Ryan Holiday’s book Ego Is the Enemy. That book made the rounds among the movers and shakers in Silicon Valley and it even infiltrated the offices of many NFL coaches. I doubt Charlie LoPresti has read the book. Like most horsemen, his job is 365 days a year, probably without much time for leisure reading. But in a world of achievement and ego, LoPresti might be one of the best examples of someone who has mastered his ego and has decided what’s important to him.

“To know what you like is the beginning of wisdom and of old age.” -Robert Louis Stevenson

While horsemen and horseplayers have known and respected Charlie LoPresti, it was Wise Dan who put this trainer into the limelight. Yet despite training a two-time Horse of the Year and winning a Breeders’ Cup, Charlie LoPresti still does things more like the trainers of old. Since taking out his trainer’s license in 1993, LoPresti has maintained a relatively small number of horses and developed a reputation for taking his time with his prospects. Another horseman said of LoPresti, “He is a horseman in the truest sense. He gives them the time they need and does everything the right way.” Charlie LoPresti’s biography on the NTRA website reads, “Unlike most major trainers who relocate to various tracks throughout the year, LoPresti is based year-round at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, KY.”

“This is just what works for me,” said LoPresti, whose refusal to travel away from Keeneland and his nearby farm during the winter months sets him apart from his more prominent national colleagues. “The farm is 365 days a year,” he said, “and besides, I just feel like I can do a better job staying here.” Later he said, “I know the economics of the game means that most trainers need to keep racing, but we like to give the horses a little break, just like horsemen used to do it years ago.”

In Ryan Holiday’s book, my favorite chapter compares the lives of Ulysses S. Grant and his friend William Tecumseh Sherman. They were dual architects of the Unions’s victory and were two of the most respected and important men in America. But following the Civil War the two men took different paths. Grant went on to be a colossal failure as President and went bankrupt as a businessman and investor. Meanwhile, Sherman repeatedly declined offers to run for office. “I have all the rank I want,” he told them. As Holiday says, “Having seemingly mastered his ego, he would later retire to New York City, where he lived in what was, by all appearances, happiness and contentment.”

For Charlie LoPresti, having a huge barn like the Todd Pletchers and the Steve Asmussens is not important to him. “I just feel like I can do a better job seeing them all myself every day, not that the big guys don’t do a good job,” LoPresti said. “For some people, that works for them, but I’d be overwhelmed if I had 100 horses.”

“Strategies are often mutually exclusive,” Holiday writes. “One cannot be an opera singer and a teen pop idol at the same time. Life requires those trade-offs.” For LoPresti, he doesn’t want to race year-round, he doesn’t want to move his stable from track to track. The trade off might be not winning a Triple Crown Race, but LoPresti seems to have mastered his ego and enjoys doing things the way he wants to do them. “I just want to be more like the old, tiny stables,” he said in a New York Times article. “If you look at the Mack Millers and Frank Whiteley’s, they didn’t run 365 days a year. A lot of people can’t stand still for that, but … the people need time, and the horses need time.”

“It’s time to sit down and think about what’s truly important to you and then take steps to forsake the rest.” That’s the main challenge Ryan Holiday presents in the chapter. As I write this at the age of 41, the most important thing for me right now is not climbing the corporate ladder or buying that dream house but making the most of the days. My wife and I both have aging parents we want to spend time with. I have a mom battling cancer for the second time and a dad who needs a hip replacement. For me, it’s about supporting my wife in her teaching and coaching career and spending time with the people who are important to us, and having enough free time and money to spend a few weeks in Saratoga every summer. At 41, I’ve come to discover what’s really important to me, and I’m taking steps to forsake the rest. This is how I want to live the second half of my life.

“When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people — our bosses, our colleagues, our clients, and even our families — will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.” (Author, Greg McKeown)

“I don’t want to run horses 365 days a year,” LoPresti said. “I want to run them when I think the best racing is, and I think the best racing is spring, summer and the fall.” He added, “I probably miss a little bit by not being in Florida in February and March, but you know what, I’m not that consumed with winning the Kentucky Derby.”

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “To know what you like is the beginning of wisdom and of old age.” LoPresti likes his small stable. And he knows what’s important to him. Operating his stable like the old time trainers, giving his horses the winter off, and basing pretty much his whole operation out of Keeneland and his Forest Lane Farm in Kentucky. In a world that is consumed with winning the Kentucky Derby, Charlie LoPresti has mastered his ego and is running his own race.

Thanks for reading- I’m Scott Raymond. I’m a writer, a volleyball husband, and forever a coach and a teacher. I’m passionate about horse racing, Major League Baseball, and NCAA Volleyball. I live in the Twin Cities with my wonderful wife Kari.

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