We hear so many racetrack stories. Anyone who has been around this game has heard just about everything. The racetrack has always been a world within itself. Inside that world there were two realms, the backstretch and the frontside. They mix, but also remain separate. Today we have a third realm, social media. Social media spreads those stories faster than before and as opposed to limiting them to the originating racetrack, now they are simulcasted, so to speak, to all racetracks.
Jonathan Wong has been on my radar a while now. As a student of the game, and of course a bettor, I make note of barns I consider dangerous. Jonathan Wong earned his way onto that list a few years ago. I knew he placed his horses well, and came to run. I didn’t know much more about him that that. After he won his first Grade 1 recently with Keeper ofthe Stars at Santa Anita I heard a story about him. I liked it and for whatever reason the bad and negative stories get way more traction than the good ones. This one was good.
A trainer who also happens to be a long time friend of mine shared something the other day. He told me another trainer who was doing well had sent him a car, which he needed, and registered and insured it for him. Obviously he was most appreciative. He just did it because he knew this other trainer, my friend, could use the help. When I replied how special this guy was he said yes and no. Sure he is special but he is just this kind of guy and really does these types of things when he can. Good guy, and hardest worker I know he said. The good guy was Jonathan Wong, and that is one of the good racetrack stories.
With Keeper ofthe Stars coming off wins in the Grade 2 Buena Vista and Grade 1 Gamely, I though this would be a good time to get to know Jonathan Wong a little better, and see his approach to training.
I reached out to Jonathan and found him to be as described.
How did you first become exposed to horse racing ?
We had a family friend who owned a grocery store. He also owned horses and invited us to Bay Meadows one day. That was it, I was hooked.
Who was the first claim you had success with, and what did you like about that horse that triggered the claim?
The first one we had success with was To Fast To Pass, and I really liked his consistency. My owner actually pointed him out and picked him but the consistency was what I liked.
Now that you’re a Grade 1 winner will you focus more on sales and purchasing young horses, or will you continue to do both and stay active claiming?
Yes and yes. I definitely want to be more active at the sales, and plan to be. I want to work with more of those types of horses, and more owners who race those types of horses. With that, I also love the claiming aspect of the sport and will remain very active in the claiming game.
In your opinion, what is the biggest or most significant difference in training a stake horse and a claiming horse?
With stake horses you can train them and point them to a specific race, it gives you something to point for and you know the race will go and you can run. With a claiming horse, especially today, you are not 100% sure the race will go and you get to run. You have to balance that by having them ready to win, but also ready to wait a few days or even more for the right spot. If the race you wanted to run in doesn’t fill, you have to have an alternate spot or look for an extra race they write you can fit into. With stakes horses you don’t have that issue, you just have to be ready race day.
When Jonathan Wong looks at a horse today, to buy or to claim, what does he look at first?
The first thing I look at is confirmation. Next the way they walk and move and their body, how they carry themselves. It has to all come together in the right package. Sometimes one little thing, in the walk or the movement can through the whole thing off.
With that Grade 1 under your belt, what is the one race you want to win most and why?
The Breeders’ Cup Classic. You have to beat the best in the world, unrestricted on that one day. That’s the one for me.
You have had a lot of success in California on every level now, but California has a tough racing climate today, do you plan to stay there or may we see you or a string of Jonathan Wong horses in the east?
Everybody is paying attention to ow racing will go here. I love it here and am a big supporter of the racing here. I plan and hope to stay in California. I am hoping to build even a bigger presence here. I am also open to running some of my horses on the east coast and shipping more as the right opportunities arise. It has to be the right horse and the right race and opportunity but I will be looking at that for sure.
What are your thoughts on running with no race day medications similar to other jurisdictions ?
I am all for what is best for the horse, and also for racing. If that is better for the horses and the sport I am all for it.
Is there a type of horse you prefer, turf, dirt, sprinter, router?
I love turf horses but not because of any training aspect. I just love when they turn for home and it becomes a quarter mile sprint home, especially when you know your horse is ready for it.
Are there any barns or trainers you avoid or won’t claim from for any reason?
No, not really. If I like what I see I will claim them. I am confident in my program and the care my horses get. I believe they get the best and most horses regardless of where they have been before will respond positively to that type of care and program.
With the Grade 1 in the books for Keeper ofthe Stars, what are the future plans for her?
Right now open. I m going to get with Tom and Debi of Tommy Town Thoroughbreds, her owners, and discuss what is best for her. It is always about what is best for the particular horse.
Is it easier to plot a campaign and plan for a stake horse or a claimer and why?
As I said earlier, with a stake horse you can pick your spot and you know the race will go and you can run. That makes it a lot easier with a stake horse. With a claimer you can’t be 100% sure the race will go.
Anything in the barn we don’t know about yet that has you excited and we should watch for?
Yes, we’ve got a filly for Tommy Town named Praaise and Honor we are all really excited about. can’t wait to run her. I can’t express how thankful I am for the opportunity Tom and Debi have given me with these horses.
As I said Jonathan has been on my radar. After touching base with him it was easy to see why. He’s focused and dedicated to his craft. More grade 1’s looks like the safe play here. In 2019 Jonathan Wong was 14th in the country in wins, and 53rd in earnings. That is more than respectable and 2020 will hopefully be even better.