Bill Kaplan, one of South Florida's most successful trainers over the past 30 years and conditioner of 2011 champion female sprinter Musical Romance, will retire from training after this weekend.
Kaplan not only distinguished himself as trainer of multiple graded stakes winners, but as a great judge of young talent and someone who actively and creatively publicized the sport.
"It's just time," Kaplan said. "I'm 70 years old and I think I'd rather do some other things at this stage of my life than get up every morning at 4:30. I've been thinking about it since last year. I've been doing this for 37 years. I'm financially secure, I'm relatively healthy, and I want to enjoy myself."
Kaplan's graded stakes winners include Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) and Inside Information (gr. II) winner Musical Romance, Indiana Derby (gr. II) winner East Hall, Davona Dale (gr. II) and Old Hat (gr. III) winner Ekati's Phaeton, Palm Beach Stakes (gr. III) winner Mr. Livingston, and Spectacular Bid Stakes (gr. III) winner Seacliff, who also swept the 1995 Florida Stallion Stakes. Other stakes winners included Ravensmoor, Fortune Pending and Castlebrook, a track-record holder at Calder.
In 2007, Kaplan saddled Imawildandcrazyguy to a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Originally from Brooklyn, Kaplan, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and recipient of a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, was a CPA who obtained a pilot's license "for kicks" before heading to South Florida in the 1970s. Shortly after his arrival he started Air South, an airline that flew throughout the southeast that grew to 10 planes and 15 pilots. After purchasing a few horses, he took out his trainer's license and won his first race in 1980.
Kaplan never looked back. "I fell in love with Thoroughbred racing the first time I was around it," he said.
Training a modest stable in the 1980s, Kaplan arrived each morning at his Calder stable at 4:30 in a Crown Victoria which he once joked "had more Racing Forms in it than engine oil." It seemed only fitting that his stable star during those lean years would be Ell's Once Again, who had three screws in one of her legs.
Kaplan was always willing to think outside the box. In 1986, he allowed jockey Robert Woodhouse, son of former riding great Hedley Woodhouse, to send several of his mounts as wide as possible down the backstretch at Calder Race Course before bringing them off the crest of the track entering the turn to the inner rail. The variation of the "Ussery's Alley" technique provided Kaplan and Woodhouse several winners as well as headlines.
Woodhouse was so wide down the backstretch that head-on shots couldn't pick up Kaplan's horses. "(Woodhouse) was so wide he came back with paint on his boots," Kaplan would say with a smile.
In the week leading up to saddling Seacliff in the 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), Kaplan wrote a blog for the Sun-Sentinel, writing about his trip home to New York and updating readers on his horse's preparation going into the race.
As his stable grew, Kaplan also became known for his keen eye at yearling and 2-year-old sales. Musical Romance, who earned $1.6 million and later sold at auction for $1.6 million, was purchased for $22,000. Mr. Livingston, a winner of $400,000, went for $42,000, and East Hall, who earned $870,000, was bought for $55,000.
"I've been extremely fortunate," said Kaplan, who has trained for Pinnacle Racing Stable the past 14 years. "I've been blessed with great owners and wonderful help. At the same time, it's just time. I have a couple cruises lined up, including one to Alaska, and I'm going to play some golf and work out. And I'll still be at the sales for my clients."
Several of Kaplan's horses will go to the barn of Stanley Gold.