Cesar de Alba sits in his barn in Los Alamitos and allows himself the occasional dream. Maybe someday, somewhere, someone will give him the opportunity to train a high class horse.
Until then, he shows up at Orange County race tracks and trains quarter horses during the day and at night, assisting three groomsmen managing a 16-horse stable that is not long on quality but Never short on hopes and dreams.
“Without horse power, it’s tough,” D’Alba, 39, said during a phone interview this week. “You can’t do much. It’s hard to make horses sound. Everything is tough. What it comes down to is this: If you don’t have customers, you’re not going to make it.”
“But everyone starts somewhere. I remember Pete Miller started with some horses, he got up to about 15 or 20 and I was helping him gallop and help him with the wind horses Was doing it, and look at him now. He has like 80 or 100 heads. I think if I try hard enough, things will be fine.”
San Diego native D’Alba never dreamed that the training game would be as tough when he retired as a quarter-horse jockey in December 2018 and decided to see how the other half lived.
He won 1,031 races as a quarter-horse rider, but he grew tired of the grind and hung on at an age when many jockeys were simply hitting their stride.
“The money wasn’t that good and I was tired of battling my weight,” D’Alba said. “It was time to move on and do something different. I love racing, I love the racing part of it, but it was just all political stuff and all (outrageous) before and after. When people ask me, ‘Do you miss horse riding?’ I tell them, ‘Yes, I just miss the race, getting on the horse in the frog and getting off the horse.’ That’s what I miss. I don’t remember all the others (outrageous).”
Now d’Alba awaits a big break that will propel him to start over. After going into Friday’s eight-race card during the LA County Fair meet in Los Alamitos, he has amassed 7 for 57 in his career (12%) since taking out his trainer’s license in 2019.
Stay Happy, who has a 50% stake with William Heck, won Saturday’s fourth race at Los Alamitos, a starter allowance, giving him his third win of 2021 from 24 starts (12.5%). But to win more races, he needs more bosses like heck.
“(Heck) is very sensible, I have known him for a long time and he has a good mindset when it comes to racing horses and winning races,” said D’Alba. “Then you’ve got these other customers who think their horse is a superstar and you have to drive them over their heads. That’s when you go into the race hoping the horse runs well. Inside, you know You don’t have a shot.”
D’Alba sits in his barn and wonders if he’ll ever find some stock that trains the same or worse win percentage as other trainers. He is not looking for Bob Baffert, John Sadler or Philippe D’Amato-type horses. He would be happy with a $50,000 claim. He just wants the opportunity to show what he can do.
“Some of these trainers have 40 or 50 heads, they hardly win any races, and they have barns full of horses,” D’Alba said. “I don’t know how they do it. I wish I had some of those horses and showed people what I could do.
“You get one or two occasional horses that are superstars for those trainers and then you don’t see the trainer on the map for the next five or 10 years. If you gave those horses to Shamo, they probably There will still be good horses.
But D’Alba can be patient. His wife Becky Fitzgerald has a good job. He is a track vet in Los Alamitos. The couple has a home in Cypress, just a few miles from the track, and they have two young sons. Life is good for Cesar d’Alba.
Four of her breeds are currently running and all eight-quarters of her horses are active. He just needs a break.
“Well, I don’t have the stock I want to hold one day,” he said. “It’s all just backyard horses, cal-bred horses, and most of them come from the ranch or trimmings. I don’t have much stock with the elites. It’s tough with the elites. I still have to find a way.” In need, find someone who can help me with some quality horses.”
But he isn’t planning on going to the shorter circuit to get his foot in the door.
“I’m doing fine with Quarter Horses so I’m staying here,” said D’Alba. “I (the owner of Los Alamitos) train some horses for Doc Alled and he tells me I need to make up my mind about which breed I want to train. But I think it is possible to do both .
“I know my stats aren’t looking good, driving these good breeds on their heads, but if people look up, I’ll claim a horse and I’ll improve it. I know what I’m doing.” I just want clients. I need someone to bring me a $50,000 horse.
Follow Art Wilson on Twitter @Sham73