Jeff Runco became the 24th trainer in North American history to notch 3,000 wins in a career when Sweet Halucination won the fifth race at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races on April 23 by 8 1/2 lengths.
“It’s definitely exciting, but it’s been a lot of work over the years,” said the 51 year-old Runco. “We’ve had so many good people behind the scenes and great owners that have made it all possible.”
Following a career as a jockey, Runco decided to turn his attention to training in the mid 1980’s and his horses banked almost $30 million in earnings since then, including a Charles Town record of over $2.8 million in 2010. Runco-trained horses have won 100 or more races in 19 of the last 20 years.
Runco is also one of only eight trainers boasting 3,000 or more wins and a winning percentage of 20%. This short list is comprised of Jerry Hollendorfer, Steve Asmussen, Scott Lake, Bill Mott, Bud Delp, Bobby Frankel, Gerald Bennett, according to information provided by Charles Town, which also said Hirsch Jacobs’ presence on the list couldn’t be confirmed due to incomplete information on starts prior to 1963.
“There are three moments that stick as highlights,” he added. “Researcher winning the Charles Town Classics (twice) was special,” Runco said. “We also won a grade III in New York with him, which is something I won’t forget. Then we had a homebred of ours (Sea Rescue) that won the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic. Those three moments definitely stand out.”
Runco’s first winner as a trainer, Fantastic Power on July 12, 1985, at Charles Town, not only came in a dead heat but also marked the first career victory as a jockey for Fantastic Power’s rider – Runco’s wife Susan.
“I met my wife here and we liked the area and the location,” Runco said of his decision to base at Charles Town. “We’re close to several other tracks and we liked the idea of being able to get involved with the West Virginia breeding program.”
While Runco sees himself focusing more on the sales in coming years and upgrading the quality in his barn, there’s no question his line of work won’t change.
“I couldn’t see myself being anything but a horse trainer. This is what I want to do.”