Churchill’s new 30+/<30: Saluting Jimmy Baker

By Churchill Downs publicist Kevin Kerstein (Coady Media photo of Jimmy Baker)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Sunday, May 12, 2024) – In a new series, we will be showcasing veterans of the horse racing industry who have dedicated more than 30 years to the sport while training fewer than 30 horses. The first article in the series will highlight trainer Jimmy Baker

          Baker, a multiple graded stakes-winning trainer, began his stable in 1989. Over the past three decades, he has overseen more than 3,600 starts with his runners banking more than $16.7 million in purse earnings.

          However, Baker’s journey to success hasn’t always been smooth, particularly in recent years.

          “I trained for a lot of great clients throughout my career and I still train for some great people,” Baker said. “It’s just a little bit of a different game now than when it was back when I first started. Back when I first started training, I was very lucky to train for some high-powered clients like the Steinbrenners and Governor (BreretonJones. Those type of clients really invested in their mares and homebred programs. So I had different horses in the barn.”

Last year proved challenging for Baker as his stable recorded just 30 starts and three wins, marking the lowest of his career.

          “We hopefully have a couple nice allowance-type horses in the barn,” Baker noted optimistically. “With the purses here in Kentucky, that’s not a bad thing to have.” 

          Baker grew up in a racing family. His father, George, was a trainer in New York and gave Baker his start at the racetrack. In the 1970s, Baker eventually branched out from his father and went to work for trainer David Whiteley.

          Following his stint with Whiteley, Baker then went to work for future Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey.

          “I was very fortunate to learn from some very talented horsemen,” Baker said. “I remember working for the Whiteleys and they’d always tell me ‘quality versus quantity.’ I still think that’s true to this day.

          “I never trained more than 40 horses at a time and when I did, I had to be at three different places because of the stall situation. I just went back to what the Whiteleys told me and never really wanted to expand from that many horses.”

          When Baker first began his own stable, he credited McGaughey for helping get him started. Five years later, Baker had arguably the most successful horse in his care, Robert Hoeweler’s Mahogany Hall. The colt finished third in that year’s Blue Grass Stakes (GI) and ninth in the Kentucky Derby (GI). As a 5-year-old, Mahogany Hall gave Baker his lone Grade I victory, the Whitney Handicap (GI) at Saratoga.  

          “He was a game-changer for my career,” Baker said with a smile. “He was such a fun horse to have in the barn that raced from a 2-year-old all the way to six. Growing up in New York, I always thought the Belmont Stakes was the race to win until I ran Mahogany Hall in the Derby. Then I quickly realized the Derby is the race. He changed the course of my career for the better and ran against some very talented horses throughout his career. Maybe one day we’ll get another one like him in the barn.”

          Today, Baker oversees a small string of about 10 horses in Barn 46 at Churchill Downs.

          “We got a couple 2-year-olds that just came into the barn not too long ago,” Baker said. “We’ll see. We’ll always hold out hope.”

Jennie Rees is a communications and advocacy specialist in the horse industry who spent 32 years covering horse racing for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal before taking a corporate buyout. In addition to handling communications for the Kentucky HBPA, Rees is Kentucky Downs’ publicity director, manages in-season racing publicity for Ellis Park and serves as a consultant to the National HBPA. Other projects include the Preakness Stakes, Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby Week and work for various HBPA affiliates and horsemen’s associations.