Trainer Picou Retires After 45 Years

(from Aqueduct report)
Trainer Jimmy Picou, who arrived on the racetrack an aspiring jockey in the late 1940s, called it a career Sunday.

Picou, who turns 71 on Jan. 6, saddled his final horse, Big Apple Daddy, who finished last of 12 in Sunday's $85,725 Damon Runyon for juvenile New York-breds at 1 1/16 miles. It was the Precise End colt's first attempt around two turns.

"I feel a little bad, but it's the right thing to do," Picou said of his decision to retire after 45 years as a trainer. "It's time to do something else."

Business has slowed considerably for Picou since the death of owner/breeder Fred Hooper in August of 2000. This season, he has started just 50 horses, winning three races. Lately, he has grown tired of convincing prospective clients his worth.

"It gets disheartening when you're working as hard as you were 20 years ago and you're not getting any 2-year-olds or young horses," Picou said. "I hated taking horses over there that couldn't get out of their own way."

Though the last few years have been somewhat forgettable, Picou has had a notable career training Thoroughbreds in New York. In 1981, he scored one of his favorite wins in the Travers, defeating eventual 3-year-old champion Pleasant Colony with Willow Hour.

"We bought Willow Hour as a yearling and winning the Travers might have been the most exciting race of my career," Picou said.

Then there's Val's Prince, the classy gelding who won the Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) in 1997 and 1999 and Hong Kong International Cup at Sha Tin in 1997. Val's Prince was the first U.S.-based winner of the Hong Kong International.

"He was a great horse," Picou said. "Taking him to Hong Kong and winning was very special."

Shortly before he developed Val's Prince into one of the nation's leading turf horses, Picou saddled Diplomatic Jet to three grade I victories in 1996 – the Manhattan, Man o'War and Turf Classic Invitational.

Picou, a native of Beaumont, Texas, began riding horses on his family's farm in his youth. He traveled to the racetrack in the late 1940s with the hopes of becoming a jockey. He began his riding career with a victory in his first race aboard Miss Maggy at Belmont in autumn of 1949 and won approximately 200 races as a jockey.

In 1954, Picou retired from the saddle and became an assistant for trainer Walter Kelley. Picou started his own stable in 1960 and won his first race as a trainer at Aqueduct that year.

"I've been around a long time but it doesn't feel that way," Picou said. "My career feels like it's gone by in a blink of an eye. It's amazing. I'm very appreciative of the owners that supported me and the horses that I trained."

Picou plans on moving to Florida with his wife of 51 ½ years, Helen.