Joseph Gearing Up for Championship Meet Title Defense
Barbados Native Credits Owners for Career Accomplishment
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. followed up Top 10 finishes in the 2021 national standings in both races-won and purse earnings with a breakthrough 2021-2022 Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park, during which he dethroned perennial titlist Todd Pletcher with a meet-leading 58 wins.
To finish off his career-best achievement in style, Joseph saddled White Abarrio for a victory in the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1).
The 35-year-old Barbados native takes personal pride in capturing his first Championship Meet title, having endured through much leaner times a few years ago to reach the top of the standings at Gulfstream’s winter meeting.
“All glory to God. You feel like you’re going to break and not go on. I look back to 2019, 2018. The worst meet we had was in 2018. There was a hurricane and they moved us from the barn to a tent. We went through that meet at Gulfstream like 3-for-48,” Joseph said. “It was the biggest struggle I had in my life. Six months later, everything started going right, and now we’re here.”
Joseph isn’t about to rest on his laurels as he prepares to defend his title against Pletcher and many of the country’s top trainers during the new Championship Meet that gets underway Dec. 26.
“It’s going to be tough. You know he’s a champion, so he’s going to come back stronger than ever. It’s going to be tough, but we’re going to give it a try, obviously,” Joseph said. “We obviously want to win, but running second to Todd is no disgrace, but we’re going to try to give him a run for his money.”
Pletcher was a role model for a young Joseph, a third-generation horseman in Barbados.
“I used to come here on holidays when I was 15, 16, 17 and go to the races and see Todd Pletcher. He’s somebody you look up to the way he carries himself, and he can train a Breeders’ Cup sprinter all the way to a mile-and-a half race. He trains any kind of horse. That’s who I always looked up to my whole life,” Joseph said. “To actually beat him is quite remarkable. You dream about it, when it becomes reality, it puts it into perspective. It’s like ‘Whoa!’ It makes you show a lot of gratitude. It only happens when you have all the great horses and owners. That’s the most important thing, along with a great staff that does all the work.”
Joseph had early success in Barbados, where he became the youngest trainer to sweep the country’s Triple Crown with Areutalkintome in 2009 at the age of 22. He ventured to South Florida two years later with lofty goals.
“We came here naïve, young – crazy in a way, because I came here saying, ‘I’m going to be the best.’ When reality sets in, nobody cares who you are – nobody knows who you are. When we came here, we had eight, 10 horses,” Joseph said. “We were winning races with a good percentage, but when you only have eight or 10 horses, you aren’t going to win more than 12 races a year. No one notices you.”
Frank Calabrese, a highly successful owner/breeder who led Championship Meet owners’ standings from 2009 to 2013, took notice of Joseph just when his career needed a boost.
“We got a little traction when we started claiming horses and we could turn them over faster and have more repetitive winners. Five or six years in, the model wasn’t working. It wasn’t going to be sustainable, and then Frank Calabrese came along. If there’s anyone that can help turn around a career, it’s definitely him,” Joseph said. “I still talk to him at least once a week. He definitely stabilized us. He had 16 horses, all good-looking horses. I took him from 16 down to four. We got rid of 12 right away that I didn’t think were his kind, and we started claiming horses. We built the stable up to 15 or 20 for him.
“That gave me stability and increased our percentage to a higher level. That’s what people notice. People notice the percentages. Unfortunately, you have to build your percentages up. With him, to be able to run the horses in spots where they should win, you get a higher percentage. Then, people say, ‘He’s winning,’ and want to jump on the bandwagon. From then, we started picking up owners from referrals. “
Joseph understands he will need the horsepower to defend his Championship Meet title against the likes of Hall of Famer Pletcher.
“We have amazing owners. Owners make trainers. There’s no two ways about it,” Joseph said.