Written By: Marie Spada
The Expert: Bob Hess, Jr. Talking with The Horse Whisperer of Del Mar, Bob Hess Jr.
Robert Hess, Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps of horse training and got his start in his hometown of Chula Vista, CA. In 1983, he became his father’s official assistant trainer and began training on his own in 1987. That year, Hess took home his first victory from none other than the Del Mar track. Hess has been the trainer of many world-renowned horses, including Grade I winners River Special and D’Wildcat. His notable graded stakes winners include: Know Heights, Guide, Slerp, Shellbacks, De Puntillas, Forty on Line, Wekiva Springs, National Park, The Tender Track, Penny Marie, Spring Meadow, and Chandtrue. Last summer and fall, Hess and Kent Desormeaux had an impressive season at Del Mar, taking home 14 wins and three stakes.
Q: At what age did you start training horses with your father?
Bob Hess, Jr: I always wanted to spend time with Dad as a youngster. The easiest way to do this was to go to the racetrack with him whenever possible. By the age of 6, I would get up early, go to the barn on weekends, and spend the entire day at the racetrack. My desire to spend time with Dad turned into a love and respect for the horse and for the diverse, ever-changing racetrack lifestyle.
Q: You graduated from Stanford with a degree in economics, and you also played baseball on the prestigious university’s team. Did you have hopes of playing professional baseball, or was training horses your dream from the get-go?
BH: In my “perfect world” the goal was to play baseball as long as possible followed by a long career as a trainer. While I hoped to continue playing throughout my college years, the reality was that I wasn’t talented enough to compete at that level. Halfway through my freshman year, I turned my focus toward a well-rounded college experience.
Q: You won your first race at Del Mar. Is it safe to say that it is your favorite track?
BH: My first win was, in fact, at Del Mar on July 31, 1987 with a classy old gelding named Parlapiano. However, as a child, my mom and dad would take my three siblings and me to Del Mar every summer for a few days of R and R. To this day, Del Mar is my favorite racetrack because it the perfect balance of tradition, quality racing and excitement. From the fall of 1983 through the spring of 1987, if I wasn’t at Stanford, I was my dad’s assistant trainer at Del Mar. Those were the best 4 years of my life. I have a great respect for racing nationally. However, without a doubt, Del Mar is my favorite. I always say a win at Del Mar is better than two wins anywhere else.
Q: What is your fondest memory as a trainer?
BH: While I have experienced many wonderful moments throughout my career, I would have to say my most memorable experiences as a trainer is the ability to experience narrow defeats. Also, experiencing trips to the saddling paddock and winner’s circle with family, friends, clients and my two sons, Garrison and Christian.
Q: Did you have a favorite horse during your years as a trainer?
BH: My favorite horse, undoubtedly, is a horse named Slerp. He was my first “good” horse. Not only did he win stake races for us throughout the country, he also won multiple stakes races at Del Mar. What I admired most about him was his tenacity and desire to win. He would give his best every time he ran. He never lost a photo finish.
Q: You have been taking the racing world by storm since you teamed back up with Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux! You both also had show stopping careers in the 1990s. What has been the biggest difference since then?
BH: Kent and I are friends first and foremost. The key to our success is that we respect and trust each other. He lets me do my job, and I let him do his job. The early ’90s were a fun and exciting time in our careers. The biggest difference between now and then is that we have both learned to even out the highs and the lows in life and at work. Mom and Dad always said that I am never going to be as good or as bad as “they” say I am. They were right.
Q: Last summer, you had an impressive 14 wins. What are you hoping for this year, and how do you expect this year to be different from last year?
BH: Last year was refreshing, fun and satisfying. A similar or better result would be fantastic. This year we have about 10 more horses in our barn including a greater number of 2-year-olds. It would be gratifying to win a top tier handicap race or two with several of our horses this year. However, the horses’ well-being and jockey safety is all that matters.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of Del Mar’s Bing Crosby Season?
BH: There is no disputing the exciting, fun, vacation like atmosphere of the summer meet. The Bing Crosby meet, while eagerly anticipated by all, greatly exceeded my expectations. In addition to top-quality racing and superb weather, the fan base was most impressive. From first-time visitors, to parents with their kids, to the seasoned veterans, the fans all thoroughly embraced the Old Hollywood theme that Del Mar management envisioned for its inaugural Bing Crosby venture. By all accounts, the Bing Crosby meet succeeded in giving all a taste of what racing was like in the early to mid-1940s.