By Katie Merritt
Trainer Bruce Riecken grew up in Nebraska where he began his career training race horses, but he’s been bringing his string here to Canterbury Park since Ak-Sar-Ben Racecourse in Nebraska closed in 1995. Both Bruce’s father and his uncle were trainers, so Bruce grew up going to the track and learning the ropes from them.
“I always knew I wanted to train,” he said, “Either that or be a teacher and track coach,” he added, having been a competitive and successful runner as a teenager.
Riecken got his trainer’s license in 1984 and bought a couple of his own horses to get started. As is often the case, success was not immediate and he briefly debated getting his jockey’s license. “I wasn’t doing that well, and I was only about 120 pounds and galloping a lot of horses at the time,” he explained, “So I was trying to get my weight down and try to ride but I would jump off a horse and get a little dizzy, so I said the heck with it!” Fortunately, Bruce persevered with his training career, and it wasn’t long before his uncle sent Tony Didier, a new owner that was looking to get into the game, his way.
Over the years, Bruce has been very successful as a trainer, and much of that success has come with Didier, who he still trains for almost 30 years later. When asked who his favorites are, Bruce immediately responds with Rock N’ Fire, who won a couple stakes at Canterbury as well as an allowance at the prestigious Keeneland Racecourse, and Nomorewineforeddie, a five time stakes winner at the Shakopee track, including wins in the Minnesota Sprint Championship for three consecutive years; both horses were owned by Didier. Another less-obvious favorite that Riecken trained was a horse named Frostee that Didier purchased from a bottom-level claiming race at Ak-Sar-Ben. When they claimed him, the horse had a bowed tendon, so Bruce gave the horse close to a year off.
“We got probably 50 more starts out of him and he won like 12 races for us,” Bruce remembered with a smile, adding, “We got lucky and never lost him. He did quite well for us!” Clearly it doesn’t matter if it’s a stake horse or a claiming horse in the Riecken barn – he loves them all.
Bruce’s barn usually consists of about 15-20 runners, and this summer is no different, with 17. At the conclusion of Canterbury’s summer meet, he will pack up his stable and head to Kentucky for the fall meets at Keeneland and Churchill before heading to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, his winter home for the last 12 years. Before he began spending his winters there, he would stay in Kentucky until it was time to return to Canterbury, running his horses at Turfway Park.
Even though Bruce has been training for decades, he is still always learning, and can still say that he loves what he does. “My favorite part about training is probably working with the young ones and watching them develop, trying to keep them under control, keep their minds good,” he said with a smile. But like most horsemen, Bruce will tell you it’s really the animals that keep him happy at his job – “It’s just the horses themselves,” he explained, “I just love the animals.”