When trainer Kelly Breen saddles West Side Bernie and Atomic Rain in the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), it will be the first time the 39-year-old conditioner has started a horse in the Run for the Roses. But for now, he is trying to keep calm and keep his mind busy.
“I did bring a couple extra horses with me to make sure that I am not standing in front of the horse watching his every move,” said Breen. “I am trying to keep moving and active because I know a little bit about what it is like to sit in front of a stall watching one horse. You pull your hair out.”
West Side Bernie worked April 25, drilling a half-mile in an easy :48 1/5. His graded stakes victory came last year in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Stakes (gr. III), and in his last start, the colt finished second to I Want Revenge in the April 4 Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) for owners George and Lori Hall.
Atomic Rain, who drew into the Derby field when Take the Points was declared out of contention April 28, is also owned by the Halls. He finished fourth in the Wood.
Breen, who trains about 30 horses for the Halls, fell in love with the Thoroughbred industry as a child. His family lived 20 miles from Monmouth Park in New Jersey, and his parents would take the family to the track. At one time, Breen hoped to be a jockey, but that was not to be.
“I was probably around 12 or 13 and was really intrigued by the horses and the jockeys,” he said. “Growing up I was always the smallest kid in my class and had dreams of being a jockey. It escalated into a training career after I got too big.”
Breen, who turns 40 on May 13, has always been competitive by nature and competed in baseball, soccer, and wrestling in his youth. Now, he puts that energy into training and figuring out what makes his horses tick.
“I think my favorite thing is winning,” he said. “I am a very competitive person. I do love the horse, and I enjoy getting them to perform at their best level. I really enjoy figuring things out and trying to get the correct formula to win.”
Although he saddled his first winner in 1992, Breen worked as an assistant to Ben Perkins Sr. from 1994-2000 before going back out on his own again. He was the leading trainer at Monmouth in 2005 and 2006.
“I went private working for the Halls a little over a year ago, so this is our beginning couple of crops,” said Breen. “It is a lot of fun, especially when you see horses you purchased as yearlings and you watch them develop. Sometimes they turn out to be what you want them to be, and sometimes they don’t.”
Breen picked West Side Bernie out of the 2007 Keeneland September yearling sale, and the colt sold for $50,000. The Halls got involved in racing in 2004 through Breen.
“Especially in tough economic times, there is another side of racing and you can’t just spend $1 million to win a $10,000 claimer,” said Breen. “You have to be able to have a good relationship with your owners. The owners are the people that put up the money, and they make the world go around in the horse racing industry.”