John Dowd is best known for training grade II winner Songandaprayer, shown leading early in the 2001 Kentucky Derby

John Dowd is best known for training grade II winner Songandaprayer, shown leading early in the 2001 Kentucky Derby

Skip Dickstein

Trainer John Dowd Returns to Winner's Circle

Songandaprayer trainer is back in South Florida with a string of 10 young horses.

After more than a decade away, John Dowd is back doing what he loves—training racehorses, and Sept. 8 he returned to the winner’s circle for the first time with 3-year-old filly Dudes Rockin Lady at Gulfstream Park.

Best known for conditioning 2001 Fountain of Youth (gr. I) winner Songandaprayer for former professional basketball player Bobby Hurley and partners, Dowd stepped away from the rigors of training in order to raise two young children with his veterinarian wife, Lisa. They selected Ocala, Fla., as a home base where they could both make livings, and Dowd went to work for Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs South.

When Songandaprayer got off to a quick start at stud and Hurley was transitioning out of basketball and into horse racing, Dowd found and then set up a farm for Hurley near Ocala. Financial problems stymied the operation, however, and Dowd, a New Jersey native who grew up on the Monmouth Park backside working for his father, trainer Bernie Dowd, took a job inspecting horses for the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. for five years. There he met James Bryan and began buying yearlings and managing Bryan’s racing stable, Phaedrus Flights.

For Bryan, Dowd selected Celestine, winner of this year’s Longines Just a Game Stakes (gr. I) and Honey Fox Stakes (gr. II). She is a five-time stakes winner who has earned nearly $800,000 to date. He also picked out Ekati's Phaeton for Bryan. She won the 2015 Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II) and that year’s Old Hat Stakes (gr. III) and made nearly $250,000.

“I’ve always had a passion for young horses and trying to identify young talent,” said Dowd, 52. “I worked for Jim Crupi for a while and was part of the team that picked out Uncle Mo , and bought (Breeders’ Cup Distaff , gr. I, winner) Stopchargingmaria for Woodford Thoroughbreds. I stayed involved in the sport, but always knew I wanted to go back to training horses. My daughter is in college now, my son is in high school, and we migrated farther south to Jupiter. It was time for me to get back to work at the track.”

Dowd has 10 horses in training and would like to get to around 20 or 30 head. Besides Phaedrus Flights, his clients include Teresa and David Palmer, as well as Adam Lazarus’ Pinnacle Racing Stable partnership group, which co-owns Dudes Rockin Lady. Pinnacle owned grade I winner Musical Romance.

Lazarus met Dowd through retired trainer Bill Kaplan, and the two discovered they attended the same high school in Freehold, N.J.

“John is a really good guy, and we’re happy we can give him horses and help him get back to training,” Lazarus said.

Dowd said he learned from his father to keep horses happy.

“Keep them happy and they’ll run for you,” he said. “I like to be involved with each horse and be hands-on, and I’m happy being at Gulfstream and Palm Meadows.

“People want to call this a business, but it’s a sport, and you have to have a passion and love for it.”