Power Cap

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24 May 2008

Story Behind The $146 Winner At Belmont On Saturday

Who is David Prine and how did he just put over a $146 winner? Very rarely do we see prices like that in New York. Looking closer at the connections it turns out that the trainer and his story is much more special than just a $146 winner. Not only was this the trainer's first winner it was his first winner. Halation brought elation to someone that could use a break in life.

NYRA has a nice piece about him on their page
from NYRA

For David Prine, just being alive was something of a longshot. Nearly killed in a gas explosion in a Louisville, Ky. kitchen in 1999, paralyzed on one side and unable to speak, Prine endured years of physical therapy, cognitive rehabilitation, and several surgeries as he slowly learned how to walk again, and talk again. The only life he knew – that of being a chef – was gone, replaced by a legacy of suffering, trauma, and pain.

Somehow, the long and tortuous road to recovery led him to the racetrack, where he toiled as a hotwalker, blacksmith helper, and groom. But on Saturday, Prine found himself someplace he’d only dreamt about – in the winner’s circle at Belmont Park, having saddled his first winner as a trainer with his very first starter, a 4-year-old New York-bred maiden named Halation, who returned $146.

“Unbelievable,” Prine kept repeating. “It’s unbelievable.”

Three years after the accident, perhaps stirred by the memory of having worked as a hotwalker while in high school and wanting to reconnect with horses, Prine enrolled in Ted Landers’ course at Belmont Park on the principles of caring for thoroughbreds. He attached himself to a couple of blacksmiths. He procured a job working for trainer Steve Jerkens and also assisted Landers, himself a groom turned trainer. Along the way, Prine attracted the attention of Lois Engel, who in 2003 had purchased a farm in upstate New York with the intention of breeding and racing Thoroughbreds.

“I met him about 18 months ago, when he was helping out Ted,” said Engel. “Spending time at the barn and watching him, you could see he had this sixth sense for dealing with horses. I would ask him what he wanted to do, and he’d say, “Someday, I’d really like to train horses.’”

By December, 2007, Landers was ready for a break. And Engel knew exactly who she wanted to take over training her horses.

“We wanted to give David the opportunity,” she said. “This is what he was meant to do.”

With her support and that of several trainers, Prine began studying for the state exam to get his trainer’s license. It wasn’t easy. Although he knew about horses, because of his brain injury, reading and writing remained a challenge. But with the same perseverance he demonstrated in coming back from his devastating injuries, Prine was able to master the requirements and pass the test with flying colors.

Three weeks ago, he received his official license. And in Saturday’s fifth race, Halation came roaring from off the pace under Jean-Luc Samyn to win a seven-furlong turf event for New York-bred maidens.

“It’s amazing,” said Prine, who Sunday will send out Volmoose, another New York-bred maiden. “When I was in high school, I thought about veterinary medicine, but I always had a flair for cooking, so I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, and became a chef. I worked at Tavern on the Green, the National Tennis Center, other places.

“Then, after the accident, I didn’t know if I would ever have another chance. I’d always had a rapport with animals, so it seemed natural to work with horses.”

These days, Prine, who lives pretty much on Social Security, takes the Access-A-Ride from his apartment in nearby Glendale to Belmont Park, where he spends most of his time in the back of Joe Lostritto’s barn at Belmont Park. Stabled there are three of Engel’s horses, including Halation and a filly named Mercy’s Image that he spoils rotten. Drawing on his background in the culinary arts and his own ideas about nutrition, the horses are fed three times daily – at 3:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. – and routinely feast on Prine’s special blend of hay.

“There’s alfalfa in there, and timothy – it’s kind of like a mesclun salad, and they love it,” said Prine, who, chef-like, refused to divulge the exact recipe. “They’re pretty happy horses.”

Prine hasn’t given up cooking for people, either. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, he spent a month in the galley of the “Spirit of New York,” where he joined with other chefs and prepared food for the recovery workers at Ground Zero. On the backstretch, he cooks for the Anna House annual Christmas party and volunteers his services to other backstretch organizations as well.

In all, says Prine, it’s been an amazing journey.

“I’ve had a lot of setbacks,” he said. “So to be where I am is pretty amazing.”

In the winner’s circle.

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