By Katie Merritt
Trainer Larry Sterling, Jr. was born and raised in Arcadia, California, just outside of Santa Anita Park.
His father, Larry Sterling, Sr., was a prominent trainer in California, and his entire family worked within the industry, so Sterling grew up completely immersed in horse racing. Whether it has been as a jockey or as a trainer, he has always made a living working with the Thoroughbreds.
Sterling grew up working in his father’s barn at Santa Anita, and credits him for providing the knowledge and skill that has allowed him to be so successful in the industry. “He was great. The best,” he said of his father, well known for training multiple grade 1 stakes winner Vigors in the late 70s. When Sterling, Jr. was old enough at 16, he started riding races, but found making the low apprentice weights a challenge, so he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and train horses. “I won with the first horse I ever saddled at Golden Gate Fields,” he reminisced, adding, “That horse won by 12 lengths!” After doing well in Northern California, he eventually returned to Santa Anita to train.
Sterling enjoyed that first foray in training, which he did for about four years before a friend talked him in to returning to the saddle to ride one of his horses that was causing other riders quite a bit of trouble. “I would work that horse in the morning, and he would go around the turns just fine,” Sterling recalled, “But in the races, he would blow the turn and run straight through the fence.” The first time Sterling rode that horse in a race, he finished mid-pack – but the next start, he won. “I was doing well as a trainer, but I knew I couldn’t do both, and I didn’t want to be a flake going back and forth, so I decided to stick with the riding,” he explained. Sterling continued to ride for the next 20 years, achieving riding titles at meets like Hawthorne Park and Kentucky Downs, and riding many talented horses, including War Emblem, who he guided to victory in the Grade II Illinois Derby. He retired from riding in 2011, shortly after the passing of his father.
Since he retired from riding races, Sterling has spent much of his time training his horses at High Pointe Training Center in La Grange, Kentucky, away from the hustle and bustle of the racetrack. “It’s a good place to train horses, nice and quiet,” he said, praising the year-round training facility. Though he rode at Canterbury Park many years ago, this is the first time he has brought horses here as a trainer – a decision stemming from the fact that he felt like his horses would be competitive here. Sterling currently has nine horses in training, a manageable number for him and his girlfriend Jo to take care of on their own. “It’s hard to find help sometimes,” he pointed out, “And I want to do right by my horses.” Sterling gets on all of his own horses in the morning and he and Jo work together to get all of the barn work done and make sure that each horse is happy and receives the best care possible.
So far this season at Canterbury Park, Sterling has had 20 starts, six wins, five seconds and three thirds – over 70% of his runners have hit the board. There is an old racing adage that “Happy horses are fast horses,” and it seems to be proving true for Sterling’s stable here in Shakopee, Minnesota.