Overcoming The Odds

June 6, 2021

Hard work and patience keep Sharp focused. 

It’s always seemed that Thoroughbred trainer Paul Sharp has been on the fringes, an outsider, but despite the odds he’s succeeded in a challenging and at times unforgiving industry. 

There was a time that Sharp dreamed of being a cattle rancher. The horseman comes from a family of farmers and cattle ranchers, spending his formative years in Idaho, and he’s always loved horses. It was his familial ties that would help grow that passion, providing him with insight as to what his future vocation may be at a young age. 

“When I was a kid, I loved being on the farm, and my grandparents had a huge wheat and barley farm,” said Sharp. “Both of my uncles were farming at that time. I had a great uncle and he owned a really beautiful ranch in Southeast Idaho, and he was also a veterinarian. He had a lot of kids, so one of the kids was my age, and we hung out a lot together and I would go to their ranch. It was a working ranch and there were horses to ride. It wasn’t a hobby ranch. That’s kind of where I learned to ride and got the bug about horses.” 

Culture Shock

However, the vagaries of life would alter the course of Sharp’s future and he would find himself thousands of miles away from the place he once called home. But the unfamiliar surroundings would be a propitious relocation, and he would adapt to his new environment, embracing the opportunities that would help lay the foundation and establish a firm base on what would point him in the direction that became his vocation. 

“My mom ended up remarrying when I was 13,” said Sharp. “My stepdad’s family lived in the Williston (Florida) area, so we moved here. You talk about culture shock. It was 1974, and we moved from the northwest, and west coast to the southeast. But in hindsight, I couldn’t have landed in a better spot than Williston, Florida.”

The early lessons in Idaho and then in Levy County, Florida, enabled Sharp to make friends, and catch the eye of some prominent local horsemen, who recognized his passion, talent, work ethic and willingness to learn, taking him under their wing and helping him evolve.

“This was a real agrarian community at that point and it still is for the most part,” said Sharp. “You grow up with the guys you have an interest in. I ended up going with the guys, working little farm jobs, doing things, and I began participating in junior rodeos with some friends. I gravitated toward the horses and the things that I liked.”

Early Mentors

Once again life’s vagaries would take Sharp in a direction he didn’t anticipate. Timing and opportunity seemed to suggest that he had found his place in the world, and when he became fully immersed in it, it became apparent that he had found his future. 

“I met Joe and Larry King, and Joe was the manager of Waldemar Farms, and they said, ‘Come to the farm. Yeah, we’ll put you to work.’ I was just doing whatever…they saw me at one of the rodeos, they were roping and stuff, and Betty King was a barrel racer. Larry was a calf roper and bull dogger. They were very instrumental for me being in the Thoroughbred business. I went to work for them when I was 15. I pretty much never looked back. I really didn’t know that I wanted to be in the Thoroughbred business, I really got into the Thoroughbreds, especially after that summer.”

Transforming Experience 

An out of state trip to a place in an environment where the emphasis was on the Thoroughbred industry cemented Sharp’s destiny. His exposure to the industry’s different facets only helped to grow his love and interest for the sport. 

“The first sale that I attended was the Keeneland Select Sale in July,” said Sharp. “It was just the whole atmosphere of buying and selling horses, the prices that were being paid and this was in 1977. At that point Waldemar had the leading sire (What a Pleasure, the sire of the 1975 Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure) and we were selling his yearlings. We had the opportunity to see other yearlings from other stallions, the Kentucky stallions. It was just the sheer energy and excitement of the business. I was still thinking about being a cattle rancher, but as I grew up, I realized I couldn’t buy that much land.”

A Well-Rounded Horseman

As he grew older, Sharp knew he would become involved in the Thoroughbred industry in some capacity, and when he was about 16 or 17, he turned his attention toward becoming a veterinarian. However, fate would have something else planned for the horseman. It was while he was at Waldemar that he learned how to gallop, break babies and grew to enjoy the training aspect of the industry. 

“In that same time frame, when I was about 16-years-old, I learned how to do some blacksmith work,” said Sharp. “I was helping to trim mares on the farm because I hated holding for the blacksmith. I was watching, and I said to myself, ‘I can do that.’ I kept asking Larry (King), and I said, ‘Show me how to do that.’ Finally, he said ‘Okay, here.’ He went and got the tools. I remember with the first horses I did, just pulling that knife through the foot. ‘This looks just like I thought it would. It feels just like I thought it would.’ I took to it pretty fast, and I helped him for almost the next two years, trimming mares when the blacksmith came to the farm.”

Word spread within the community, one that had a sizable horse population that Sharp possessed a requisite talent, and his services were in demand, and at age 17, he was enjoying his new-found source of income. Sharp attended college for a while, but he preferred to be working. It was at the suggestion of farrier Louie Rogers that Sharp pursue becoming a blacksmith fulltime. He attended Oklahoma Farriers College, where he received a great deal of practical experience preparing him for the next phase of his life. When he returned to Williston, Sharp worked for Rogers for nearly three years. The opportunity to shod horses provided Sharp with a sense of independence while still in his teens, and the job itself proved rewarding in that he didn’t have to work the entire weekend. His reputation preceded him, and he would pick up several accounts for himself as he progressed. The job itself would pay instant dividends, as he was home for only a week before he started receiving calls from horsemen in the area. 

“I was eating dinner and the phone rings,” said Sharp. “A friend of mine calls, and says ‘Hey Paul, I hear you’re shoeing horses.’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ It’s about 7 o’clock and it was dark. He said, ‘I have five horses that we need to have shod down in the woods.’ It was In Gulf Hammock where they hunt. I said, ‘When do you me want to do them.’ He said, ‘Can you do them tonight.’ I said, ‘Why not.’ I was 19 and full of it. So, he said, “I’ll be by in 30 minutes to pick you up. I got down there at 9 0’clock and did those five horses in three or four hours. I came home, and I think I charged him $25 a head and I thought I was rich. I had been working for what wasn’t a great deal of money, and it wasn’t about the money. I just wanted a job to do that I was enjoying with the horses.” 

Learning The Ropes 

Sharp’s objective was to become more involved with breaking and training; but he didn’t know how to navigate the waters to go from one point to another. His thought was that being a farrier would provide him with some extra capital, so he’d be able to pinhook a few horses, and direct his energy toward his goals. He didn’t want to pursue being a trainer at the racetrack and be burdened with having to move from one locale to another at certain times during the year. The lifestyle just wasn’t for him. Sharp preferred to stay closer to home. 

As his shoeing business grew, so did Sharp’s confidence. He went to talk to Rogers, who said, ‘It’s about time you quit.’ Sharp was 21 when he went out on his own. He had set a 10-year plan for himself; with the hope he would be doing well enough to pinhook. He bought several inexpensive horses and even owned a few mares, but the 10-year plan would turn into 20. Sharp only worked for two people during the last five years of his career as a farrier. 

However, Sharp made good use of his time while working at Waldemar, learning as much as he could about the industry. His education continued as he began consigning a few horses of his own, observing those who enjoyed success, their methodologies and approach, what to do and what not to do, making mental notes along the way. 

“The whole time I was working for Waldemar, we were always going to the sales, from Saratoga to Hialeah and everywhere in between,” said Sharp. “I’d see these people, and I kind of knew who they were, and some of them I knew better than others. I remember a lot of those guys. They may not remember me, but I was always watching and trying to learn, always trying to pick up something from somebody.”

Finding His Way 

Sharp began buying inexpensive horses; and kept the cost down by doing much of the labor himself, thinking that the worst that could happen was that he would be paid for his time. When he started, he would buy a horse for $500, sell it for $3,000; and every so often he would pay a little more for a horse, as he would continue his evolution as a horseman. However, as fate would have it more propitious times were in his future. 

“My first real score that I remember was at a time when I didn’t have partners and was buying inexpensive horses and doing the work myself,” said Sharp. “I bought a Bucksplasher filly for $3,200, broke her, took her to the April (OBS) sale, and sold her for $9.000. I had to take her back because she had an ulcer on her throat. David Meade was the vet back then, and he told me how to clean it up. I took her back to the June (OBS) sale, we had cleaned her throat up, she scoped beautifully, and I think we sold her for $27,000.

“That was a jump starter for me. I invested the money from that sale and put it in a little farm that I had in Morriston.”

Many of the lessons Sharp learned through the years came through trial and error, but it was those experiences and an unwavering determination that would lead to far greater success as his career moved forward. 

“If I had sold her for $9,000, I would have been happy,” said Sharp. “She had the fastest 3/8ths work of the sale, I want to say that this was probably 1988 0r 87.”

Success Stories 

However, the past two decades have been extremely rewarding for Sharp as he has seen a number of graduates achieve graded stakes success. 

“I had sold some pretty good useful horses, they were listed stakes horses, but nothing really stood out,” said Sharp. “A lot of those types of horses, they weren’t able to overcome their pedigrees. These were not the best-bred horses. I was just trying to find an athlete.”

But things were about to change and in 2003, a New York-bred colt by Pine Bluff, out of the Housebuster mare Street Tappin, validated all of the time, effort and hard work Sharp had put into his career. The James Bond charge had won the Mike Lee Stakes during the summer at Belmont Park, but five months later he would secure the biggest victory of his career while carrying 128 pounds. Bossanova, was sent off as the 8-5 favorite in the Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct on Nov. 27. And the dark bay colt responded magnificently, cruising to a gate-to-wire victory under Hall-of-Fame jockey Edgar Prado for owners Lorraine and Rod Rodriguez. 

“I had another partner at this point,“ said Sharp. “I was able to spend a little bit more money, and I was able to establish myself with banks. It would’ve been the late 1990s, that I started to buy the horses that I liked, instead of the horses that would just work, and that’s when we started to have success at the racetrack as far as the pinhooking goes.”

It was a Florida-bred that added to Sharp’s growing reputation as an outstanding horseman. A horse consigned at the 2006 Ocala Breeders’ Sales 2-year-olds in training sale, was purchased for $150,000 by Brian Koriner, agent, who would also condition the colt at the racetrack. Black Seventeen, was by Is It True, out of the Strike the Anvil mare Fuzzy Navel. Black Seventeen was bred by Marilyn Lewis, and Robert and Saronda Smith. 

Black Seventeen won his debut at Del Mar as a juvenile, but it was a score during his sophomore campaign, a victory in the Carry Back Stakes (Gr. 2) at Calder Race Course, a race where he overcame a troubled start, and then would repulse the challenge of Teuflesberg in the stretch that would establish the colt. 

And Black Seventeen would add to his growing and impressive resume during his 4-year-old campaign, this time by getting up to win by a head, and paying $49.60, in the Vosburgh Stakes (Gr. 1) at Belmont Park on Sept. 27, 2008. Black Seventeen was owned by Wind River Stables, Brian Koriner, Janet Lyons and Julie Berta. Clinton Potts rode Black Seventeen to victory in both the Carry Back and Vosburgh Stakes. 

A World-Renowned Graduate

The last few years have been exceptional for Sharp with the horses that have come out of his training program, including one of the best and most popular mares of the 21st Century, and three other horses that have gone onto win Breeders Cup races.  

Monomoy Girl, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2018 and champion older female of 2020, has established superstar status in the world of Thoroughbred racing. The chestnut mare is conditioned by the 2020 Eclipse Award winning trainer Brad Cox and has 14 wins and three seconds in 17 lifetime starts. The daughter of Tapizar had been brilliant winning her debut at Indiana Grand Race Course, and capturing her next two starts as a juvenile, including what would be her first added money score in the Rags to Riches Stakes at Churchill Downs. That early success would be a harbinger as Monomoy Girl would prove to be a formidable force during her sophomore campaign, winning six stakes races at five different tracks, with scores in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (Gr. 2) at the Fair Grounds; the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (Gr. 1) at Keeneland; the Longines Kentucky Oaks Gr.1) at Churchill Downs; the Acorn Stakes (Gr. 1) at Belmont Park; the Coaching Club American Oaks (Gr.1 ) at Saratoga Race Course and the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (Gr. 1) at Churchill Downs. 

And although she took a respite from the races, spending her 4-year-old year at WinStar Farm, recovering from colic and a pulled gluteal muscle, her 5-year-old campaign put the racing world on notice with wins in the Ruffian Stakes (Gr. 2); the La Troienne Stakes (Gr. 1) presented by Oak Grove Racing and Gaming, and she secured another victory in the Longines Breeders Cup Distaff (Gr. 1) at Keeneland. And the start to her 6-year-old campaign in 2021, found her winning the Bayakoa Stakes (Gr. 3) at Oaklawn Park. 

“I was an instrumental part of the team that bought her (Monomoy Girl),” said Sharp. “I work with Liz Crow (BSW Bloodstock) and everyone knows that. We look at horses together and she makes the final decision. I feel like I’m part of that, and we work together very closely.”

First Breeders’ Cup Winning Graduate

However, it was Catch a Glimpse that was the first graduate of Sharp’s training program that would secure a Breeders’ Cup victory. Catch a Glimpse, the 2015 Sovereign Award winning Horse-of-the-Year and 2-year-old filly champion, won the Natalma Stakes (Gr. 2) at Woodbine and capped off her juvenile campaign with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Keeneland. The Mark Casse charge would go onto win eight consecutive races, and the daughter of City Zip began her sophomore campaign with wins in the Herecomesthebride Stakes (Gr. 3) at Gulfstream Park; the Apalachian Stakes presented by the Japan Racing Association at Keeneland; the Edgewood Stakes (Gr. 2) at Churchill Downs; the Penn Mile Stakes (Gr. 3) at Penn National and the Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes (Gr. 1). 

Stellar Starlets 

British Idiom is another of Sharp’s graduates who put together a series of victories, winning three consecutive starts as a juvenile. Madaket Stables LLC, Michael Dubb, and the Elkstone Group campaigned thchestnut daughter of Flashback. British Idiom achieved champion status by being voted as the recipient of the Eclipse Award as the outstanding 2-year-old filly of 2019. Trained by Brad Cox, she won the Darley Alcibiades (Gr. 1) by 6 ½ lengths and followed that win with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. British Idiom was piloted to victory in both of those races by Javier Castellano. 

It seems as if Eclipse Award winning conditioner Brad Cox has had great success with graduates of Paul Sharp’s training program. Irish-bred Aunt Pearl won three straight races as a juvenile. The bay filly broke her maiden by five lengths at Churchill Downs, then continued her success on the turf with a victory in the JPMorgan Chase Jessamine Stakes (Gr. 2) at Keeneland. But it was her win in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (Gr. 1), where she went to the lead with confidence setting the tone for the rest of the race, winning easily by 2 ½ lengths under the guidance of jockey Florent Geroux. 

“It’s very satisfying to be on the big stage,” said Sharp. “Honestly, the most satisfaction I derive out of everything that we do, training, and selling, is knowing when these horses leave here and do well is because the lessons they learned while going through our program are still with them. I think Liz (Crow) told me the other day that we had over 20 maiden special weight winners this past year (2020), 2-year-olds.”

Current Classics 

In 2021, two graduates from Sharp’s training program found themselves in the spotlight Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby weekend. A dark bay filly by Commissioner, Coach, conditioned by Brad Cox and campaigned by Keuber Racing, placed ninth in the Kentucky Oaks. However, Coach wasn’t the only Paul Sharp graduate to showcase their talents, dual classic starter Keepmeinmind placed seventh in the Derby and fourth in the Preakness. The bay son of Laoban is trained by Robert Diodoro and owned by Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennewith and Spendthrift Farm. Keepmeinmind won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (Gr. 2) as a juvenile. 

Steady, Focused and Determined 

But even with all of this success, Sharp isn’t one to rest on his laurels. He continues to work as hard as he ever has, with the objective of continuing to produce graduates who will continue to achieve success once they leave his program for the racetrack. The horseman is a rare example of humility, remaining as humble as he was when he first started training. His patience and guidance have been immeasurable in terms of his influence in producing racing prospects who have gone onto excel. 

”I love the teaching aspect of what I do, in working with both the horses and people,” said Sharp. “I learn something every day. and I like to pass on that knowledge. A lot of what I’ve learned has come through trial and error. When I first started working in the industry, for Joe and Larry King, they were extremely patient and let us learn on our own, but they would never let us go over the edge. They were always watching. Larry King is a great teacher when It comes to horses. He doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. He’s unbelievable. He can do anything with a horse. They would just let me learn by practical experience because that’s the best way to learn. I can sit here and tell someone something 20 times, but if they’re out there by themselves trying to figure it out, and they figure it out, that’s going to stay with them the whole time. It’s the same way with horses. I’ve learned from everyone that I’ve ever worked for.”

However, there were others besides the Kings who Sharp would increase his knowledge through often by observation, allowing him to develop the skill set that has made his program what it is today. 

“I learned a lot from Pug and Susie Hart when I was shoeing horses for them,” said Sharp. “And just by watching them, how they worked the young horses and how they brought them along.”

Inspiration and Motivation 

A classic winner, and someone who had a similar background, not only provided Sharp with motivation, but suggested he was on the correct career path. 

“Mike O’Quinn was also a big inspiration. I remember when he bought Aloma’s Ruler (the 1982 Preakness winner).” said Sharp. “He didn’t pay much for him, it was under $20,000. I remember seeing Mike and saying, ‘You have a nice horse.’ I had the opportunity to see Mike and his horse when they bought the horse (Aloma’s Ruler) because I was working at Grosse Point. Back then, every morning I’d go to the training barn and shoe horses for Louie and that was part of my apprenticeship. I’d go to the farm and see Mike or whoever because I’d like to stop and talk. That winter, the sale was in February back then, I think early February (at the 1981 Hialeah Florida 2-year-olds in training sale). He sold Aloma’s Ruler for $92,000, it was a great score back then. I’m thinking, ‘he just wrote his ticket.’ I’m thinking, ‘I know Mike, he’s doing the same thing, he’s been shoeing horses, he’s training for a farm.’ I said, ‘I can do that.’” 

Working Toward an Objective

And like all Thoroughbred trainers, there’s one race in particular that Sharp would like to have on his resume. 

“We want the (Kentucky) Derby winner, but of course that’s what everyone wants.” said Sharp. “I don’t know of anyone who’s been raised in the business in this country, who doesn’t have that goal in mind. We’re getting there. Royal Prince ran in the American Turf, Dreamer’s Disease ran in the Pat Day, all of those horses came from our breaking and training program. All of those horses when they left here, did well early, and that’s my source of pride. Things can be undone just as well as done. But what I look for when they leave my program is that they possess confidence and the ability to go forward to the next step. Confidence plays a large role in their success.”

Feeling Like a Million  

A bay son of Union Rags has been Sharp’s biggest pinhook to date. He purchased the colt in partnership with Liz Crow from Lane’s End for $60,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. It was a milestone that resonates powerfully with the trainer. Tatters to Riches, is out of the A.P. Indy broodmare Poco Mas, and was sold at the OBS 2017 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale for $1,000,000. The colt was campaigned by Red Baron’s Barn and Rancho Temescal LLC, and was trained at the racetrack by Jeff Mullins. Tatters to Riches won the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar during his sophomore campaign. 

 “Wow, that was overwhelming,” said Sharp. “You never think you’re going to do it, especially if here you’re still in the game, and looking back from where you had initially started as a kid, but there’s always that hope that you will reach that objective.”

Reaching seven figures, was an unexpected but welcome surprise and the visceral power of the experience resonated deeply with the introspective trainer. Tatters to Riches was bred by Mount Brilliant Farm

“I was kind of like in shock. I was like is that real. It was a little emotional after I got to thinking about it,” said Sharp. “I’m the kind of guy who always reflects, thinking back to when I was younger,’ this is never going to happen.’ I just want to make a living and enjoy what I’m doing. And then, the next thing you know you’re sitting there, this horse is going to sell good, this horse is going to sell big. 

“I was thinking the horse might bring $500,000. We would have been happy with any amount. If we sold him for $120,000, we’d be doing well. But he ticked all the boxes’ and he was by the sire who was doing well at that time, and there were a lot of good things going on. He worked extremely well. Maybe not the fastest work, but the way that he did it was so impressive, and I think that was what was drawing everyone to him.”

However, the highest price Sharp has sold a horse for at auction was a Curlin filly that he consigned for Southern Equine, that brought $1.7 million. 

No Place Like Home 

Sharp’s farm in Williston, Fla., that he owns and manages with his wife (Sarah Monohan-Sharp), is 90-aces, has a 5/8ths mile training track and 130 stalls. The horseman is well-immersed in his work, and the backdrop of the training facility is the perfect environment for someone who couldn’t see himself doing anything else.

“I like to build things,” said Sharp. “We’re at the point where we’re kind of done building, but we place an emphasis on making things easier around the farm. My goal is to keep producing the same type of results.”

A Strong and Talented Roster 

It takes a team to be successful, and it’s no different at Paul Sharp Stables, where there’s depth and talent not only within the stalls, but with every person involved in the operation.

“My wife is also a big part of the team,” said Sharp. “She takes care of the sale barn for me, so I can be at the farm, and takes care of everybody’s training horses and is a very capable horsewoman in her own right.

“I have some very good partners. My partner that I pinhook with, Liz Crow has been very instrumental in our rise in what we’ve done here lately too. We work very well together. It’s a team effort, from maintenance to grooms, to riders to my assistant, who’s been with me for 21 years.” 

The Importance of Relationships 

The horseman’s early lessons and underpinnings helped to set the stage for a career that has lasted more than four decades. However, there are components that are critical in the success of the program. 

“I like to meet good people,” said Sharp. “I’d like to keep doing this for as long as I can, and not get sour. It goes back the people. When you deal with good people, you’re not going to get sour. Horses will be what they are, but people can make our job easy or hard. The goal is to maintain and have good relationships with people in this industry.”

Photos: Horses training, (Paul Sharp)
Paul Sharp shingle and Paul Sharp trainee, (Ben Baugh)

Contributing Authors

Ben Baugh

Ben Baugh has been writing about Thoroughbred racing for more than 25 years. A past winner of the Raleigh Burroughs Award, his work has appeared...

View Ben Baugh

“I enjoy the fresh take and straight shooting from Jonathan Stettin in his Past the Wire column.”

Jill Baffert View testimonials

Facebook



    

Comments

Leave a Comment