If Thoroughbred racing ever adopted Major League Baseball’s “I live for this!” ad campaign Mike Puype could be the poster boy. Spend one morning in his shedrow and you will quickly discover what he’s all about. He’s about the horses. He’s about hard work. He accepts nothing less than excellence from himself and those around him. His motto is: “To be a winner, you have to surround yourself with winners.”
Mike’s interest in horseracing was kindled by trips to Turf Paradise during his grandparents’ winter visits to his hometown, Phoenix, Arizona. It was at the picturesque desert track where he would first become a Thoroughbred owner, and in 1986, at the tender age of 20, a trainer.
After conditioning a small stable in Arizona for five years, he moved to California to become an assistant trainer to legendary West Coast horseman Walter Greenman. During that time, he met Gary Biszantz, the master of Cobra Farm in Kentucky. In 1995, he became the private trainer for the Cobra operation, developing stable star Cobra King into a Kentucky Derby (G1) hopeful by virtue of victories in the Balboa (G3) at Del Mar, the Hollywood Prevue (G3) at Hollywood Park, the Sunny Slope at Santa Anita and the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
Winning Hollywood Park’s 1998 Swaps (G1) by 12 lengths with Old Trieste was the type of race trainers dream about. It was a hallmark victory during Mike’s tenure with Cobra.
“Trainers are always looking for the best horses they can get,” Mike said. “It was great to be so young and have tremendous horses continually coming your way. Being a private trainer early in my career was a great experience. I could really concentrate on the horses and hone my craft.”
Opening a public stable in 2002, Mike now enjoys the diversity of horses and owners that come with the territory.
“With a public stable, you have so many more options when the condition book comes out,” he said. “You have state-bred races to look at, as well claiming spots, allowance conditions and the all-important stakes schedule. Success at the track is all about finding the best spot to run and having your horse fit and ready to compete in the race you select.”
Despite his success with stakes horses, Mike still likes to dip in the claim box occasionally.
“I’m pretty picky when it comes to claiming horses. I look for horses who can improve. I’m not looking to claim one for twenty and run it for ten. I want a horse that I can develop – help make them the best they can be.”
Mike also likes to purchase horses privately, especially South Americans.
“It’s hard to buy a horse in this country. Nobody sells anything exceptional for less than seven figures. It is the exact opposite in South America. The financial realities of the game there almost require the owners to sell if they want to make money in racing. The purses are small, even a lot of the graded stakes, so it is not unusual for an owner to sell one of their best horses to keep the ship afloat.”
Developing young horses is another Puype specialty.
“I love young horses. They are a clean slate. I like to bring them in later in the season – even after Del Mar sometimes. If you have a nice horse who wins early, there are so few spots to run them that I have found it better to wait a while and then be able to keep them on a schedule. Sometimes you have a bullet who wants to run early, but for the most part, I like to give them time.”
Just like tailor-making a schedule for his horses, Mike appreciates the fact that every owner has different goals and aspirations in the horse business. He guides them accordingly.
“Every owner has their own situation and I enjoy working with each of them. I always advise them to do the right things with their animals, enter aggressively and keep their emotions in check. You need to be aggressive to be competitive in Southern California and sometimes emotions can cloud reality. I want my clients to enjoy their racing business and the best way to do that is to get to the winners’ circle.”