Brendan Walsh grew up on a farm in County Cork, Ireland. But don't assume he was born into horse racing.
"We had cattle, crops -- it was that kind of farm," Walsh said. "It was the kind of farm that you had to work fairly hard at. My old man worked the [crap] out of me. And I hated farm work."
None of Walsh's family, it turns out, could tell a mane from a tail. Yet young Brendan somehow became smitten with horses while he was little more than a wee lad.
"I was obsessed with them from the get-go," said Walsh. "I was 8, and my dad won 200 Irish pounds in a raffle and finally succumbed to my constant begging for a pony. He went off and bought this rogue of a pony. I was two years trying to get his pony going right. He actually turned into a decent little pony."
It took Walsh a couple of years to get his public stable going after he went out on his own as an American trainer very late in 2011. Now, the Walsh barn has turned into a decent little operation.
More than decent, actually. Walsh won with just 14 of his first 106 starts and subsisted on his trainer's share, around 10 percent, of about $500,000 in purse earnings during his first two full years. Last year, horses he trained won more than $2 million in purses, and already in 2017, Walsh-trained horses have won more than $1.4 million.
Walsh, who splits his stable between Florida and Louisiana in the winter before consolidating in Kentucky, has three graded stakes wins in 2017 after landing a career-best four in 2016. He has 60 horses under his care, and one of them, a colt named Multiplier, will give Walsh his first starter in a Triple Crown race when he runs in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico.
"You've got to pinch yourself sometimes, the way things have gone," said Walsh, who turned 45 on Monday. "It's a great reflection on the whole team I have."
Multiplier debuted in a Jan. 21 maiden race around two turns at Fair Grounds and finished third. He needed three tries to clear the maiden ranks but improved with every race and rewarded his trainer's confidence when Walsh moved him from his maiden win into the Grade 3 Illinois Derby. There, he finished strongly to beat the favored Todd Pletcher-trained Hedge Fund, who had been fourth in the productive Sunland Derby.
Walsh and owner Joe Senkovich's American Equistock waited to see how Multiplier came out of his race and how the competition was shaping up coming out of the Kentucky Derby. Last week, they decided to jump into the Triple Crown fray.
"He's shown me talent from time to time that made me think, 'Whoa, this horse can really run,'" Walsh said.
Multiplier is by The Factor and out of the Trippi mare Trippi Street. It is a sprint-leaning pedigree that has produced a route-leaning horse. Walsh never even raced Multiplier around one turn, starting him off in a route race this winter.
"He's quite an angular horse," Walsh said. "If you were told he was a turf horse, you'd believe it. Nothing bothers him. His temperament is what allows him more than anything. He's so switched off. He wants to eat and sleep, and that's it, but in a race, he shows great desire."
Multiplier was purchased for $62,000 as a weanling in 2014. He failed to meet a $220,000 reserve as a yearling and also failed to sell at a 2-year-old auction last spring in Florida. Walsh and Senkovich saw him there and bought Multiplier privately after he failed to attract a buyer in the auction ring.
"Some Irish boys bought him as a foal, and I think they thought they were going to knock it out of the park," Walsh said. "We saw him at the sale and loved him, but we didn't think we could afford him. He breezed OK, but I don't think it went exactly to plan."
Multiplier worked twice last June in Kentucky, but things weren't quite right, and Walsh backed off.
"We stopped because little things were going to turn into big things," he said. "I've learned there's no two ways about it: You pay now, or you pay later."
Walsh's Thoroughbred education has come from diverse quarters. His early desire to become a jockey wasn't realized, but Walsh went to work for Sheikh Mohammed's Kildangan Stud in County Kildare and stayed with the Godolphin operation for six years. He was based in Dubai for a while, often shipping with Godolphin runners to compete in major races on the international circuit. He worked summers in France with trainer John Hammond, and when Walsh decided he needed to experience more than the top end of the racing spectrum, he settled in England as an assistant trainer to Mark Wallace, who ran a stable in Newmarket.
Walsh held that job for more than three years, whereupon visiting friends in the United States, he met Ireland-born trainer Eddie Kenneally and mentioned that he was thinking of making the move to America. In the fall of 2007, Walsh did so.
"Almost from the start, I happened to fall into the job as his assistant," Walsh said. "At the time, Eddie was really getting going. We had some great horses, and it was a great experience. He threw me in there, and I did everything. I learned an awful lot from Eddie."
Late in 2011, Walsh decided the time had come to make his move into the job he had coveted since he was a young man, and he left Kenneally and went out on his own. He had six horses early in 2012 and wound up winning just four races that year from 51 starts.
"It was a struggle at first, but none of us are ever too far away from a struggle again," Walsh said. "At no point ever was I really going to quit, even if it looked on paper like it was. I always had two or three nice horses in the barn."
It was one horse, really, who turned things the right way. Walsh never has claimed more than a handful of horses, but on Feb. 13, 2013, he plunked down $10,000 to take a fourth-time starter named Cary Street.
"I claimed him to run him in a race three weeks later, and he got his ass kicked," said Walsh.
Walsh's strike rate with horses adding blinkers is modest, but he threw a set on Cary Street the second time he ran him, and the difference was night and day. Cary Street wound up racing 14 times in 2014, and when Walsh stretched him out to long distance dirt races in the second part of the year, Cary Street really excelled. He won the Greenwood Cup at Parx Racing and two starts later captured the Breeders' Cup Marathon by more than nine lengths.
"I don't think there's ever going to be a horse again that's going to do what he did for me," Walsh said. "He saved me. I was owed some money from a few people at the time, and he paid a lot of bills."
The Breeders' Cup Marathon no longer exists, but Walsh won the stakes it spawned last fall at Santa Anita with another accomplished dirt stayer named Scuba. Scuba has yet to find his best form in 2017, but Walsh had a good Fair Grounds run with one Juddmonte Farms cull named Redesdale, and an even better one with another former Juddmonte runner, Honorable Duty.
Gelded in the fall, Honorable Duty won the Tenacious, the Grade 3 Mineshaft, and the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap and was named the Fair Grounds horse of the meet. Honorable Duty returned to racing May 5 at Churchill, where he gave gallant chase to a loose leader and finished second in the Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes.
Multiplier has reached no such heights so far, but, developing steadily under Walsh, he will appear Saturday on one of the brightest stages in racing. The colt still is improving, according to the trainer whose fortunes already have.
"It's been a great time since last fall with Scuba, right through the winter," Walsh said. "It's like a dream come true for me. You put your whole life into it -- you're finally starting to get some results."