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Gelner Has 13 Stakes Wins in Only Two Years Training

Jayde Gelner—known as J.J. around the track—has only two semesters of college left should he want a degree. At this point, though, why bother? Not even two years into his career as a trainer, the 23-year-old has 80 wins as of his recent Aug. 16 birthday, including 13 in stakes (seven of which are black-type), and more than $2.7 million in earnings. The trainer’s cut of the stable’s winnings plus a day rate for the 40 horses under his care works out to a much better living than pretty much any recent grad could pull down, even after accounting for 17 employees split between two states.  

Gelner is currently based at Louisiana Downs with another string at Remington Park. Already looking to branch out further, he applied for stalls at Churchill Downs for the September meet and also hopes to send his fastest horses to Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots for the winter. This week Gelner vanned up to Charles Town, W.Va., with horses for four different stakes on Charles Town Classic night this Friday, Aug. 25, while lead assistant Horace Charles, who isn’t going to Hollywood Casino At Charles Town Races, keeps the operation running back in Bossier City, La. 

Gelner spoke with BloodHorse MarketWatch about being a third-generation horseman, his fast start after going out on his own, and his goal of becoming the youngest trainer to win a Breeders’ Cup race.

MarketWatch: Your dad, Scott Gelner, is well-known on the Louisiana circuit, and your late grandfather, John Gelner, also trained. Was becoming a trainer a given for you?

Jayde Gelner: Growing up in Vinton (La.), every chance I got I would go to the races at night with my mom. I always wanted to go to the track. I just loved it. And then once I got to high school, I was able to be an assistant for my dad because I was right across the street from Delta Downs Racetrack. I’d wake up early, go to the barn, get done with everything that needed to be done, and be at school by 8 a.m.

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Me and my dad have a really good relationship. He’s a very good horseman. Sometimes he doesn’t really know how to describe how he does something, but it works out perfectly because I’m more of a visual learner. I have a knack for noticing little things; that’s how I got started learning. I would just follow him around and ask a few questions, get a few answers, and work from there.

MW: How did you know you were ready to go out on your own?

JG: I was working for my dad and we started moving horses to Texas, wanting to try something beyond Louisiana. And I like Texas racing—the purses are good and the crowds are strong. When you win a race at Lone Star Park you feel like you won a race. It’s not like there are three people in the grandstand on a Friday or Saturday night, it’s packed.

I had our fastest filly at the time—her name was literally Shes Our Fastest —and Dad let me take care of everything in Texas. He didn’t have to worry about anything and I got to show the clients that I was capable of doing everything. 

Shes Our Fastest wins the 2020 Owner Appreciation Distaff Stakes
Photo: Coady Photography

Shes Our Fastest wins the 2020 Owner Appreciation Distaff Stakes at Delta Downs Racetrack

My mom kept pushing it through to me, ‘Oh, you’ve got to go to college.’ So I have two semesters left but I started doing so good training that I was like, man, I don’t know if I can finish school, I don’t know how I’m going to have time in the day to do all this. 

So after I started out on my own, school had to take a backseat because I had some really quick success. It was kind of a no-brainer. It wasn’t really the right time; I guess I just wanted to do it and figure out what it was.

MW: What can you tell me about your most prominent owners, Mark Norman and Norman Stables (Robert Norman)?

JG: Mr. Robbie (Norman) and me go to the sales together and try to find the best horses that we can and lately we’ve been looking for more regional horses. The states we’re racing in have pretty strong state-bred programs. A horse like Ghost Hero  (a multiple stakes-winning Oklahoma-bred and earner of $214,082 pointing to the Aug. 25 $350,000 Robert Hilton Memorial Stakes at Charles Town), we paid $77,000 for as a yearling and he’s almost tripled that. If you spend $77,000 on a Kentucky-bred you have to hope that maybe he’s really, really good and not just good. 

Ghost Hero wins 2023 Will Rogers Stakes at Will Rogers Downs
Photo: Coady Photography

Jayde Gelner (far right) after Ghost Hero’s win in the Will Rogers Stakes at Will Rogers Downs

MW: What are your goals for yourself personally and your stable?

JG: My main goal is to become the youngest winning Breeders’ Cup trainer. I think the record now is 26 (Joseph O’Brien), so I’ve got three more years.

My short-term goal is I want to run out of fingers to count how many stakes wins I have this year. I want to win 10 and I have two more to go.

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